Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
–Hebrews 6:1-2 (NASB)
The second elementary teaching of the Messiah in Hebrews 6:12 is called “faith toward God,” but how is this distinct from other first-century sects of Judaism? Even the Sadducees believed in God. Find out how Yeshua transformed the faith of his followers, and get a fresh handle on what it means to “believe in Jesus” and to be “born again.”
Apparently I was premature last week in writing No One Comes to the Father Except Through the Son, because Lancaster tells the same parable I referenced in that blog post in today’s sermon. I should have guessed when the chapter of Elementary Principles I quoted from was called “Faith Toward God”.
Fortunately, there are many other details revealed by Lancaster within the context of his “Faith Toward God” lecture. Here’s what I mean.
Remember, we’re studying the elementary principles of the faith, the very first things one must absolutely grasp as disciples of Jesus, the “milk,” the really simple stuff, the basic “food” you must consume and get used to before you’re ready for “meat.”
But doesn’t “faith toward God” seem a little too elemental? I mean saying “have faith in God” is like saying “God made the Earth” or “the Torah was given through Moses.” How did having faith in God distinguish the Jewish religious stream of “the Way” from all the other Judaisms of their day? All of the Judaisms, no matter how they otherwise differed, had faith in the existence of God.
In fact, the Way and the Pharisees had almost identical beliefs. They both believed in the resurrection, they both believed that God rewards good and punishes evil in this life and the life to come, they both believed that you had to repent to be forgiven of sins.
Apparently though, the Greek we translate as “faith in God” or “faith toward God” is better rendered “faith ON God” or “faith UPON God,” implying a sort of reliance.
Later in the epistle, the writer of Hebrews defines faith, which should help us solve our small mystery:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.
–Hebrews 11:1-2 (NASB)
Here’s the key to understanding how a Messianic faith on God would be different from that of a Pharisaic faith or the faith of any other branch of first century Judaism:
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.
–Hebrews 11:6, 39-40 (NASB)
In case you’re still wondering what all that means, here’s Lancaster’s parable, which I referenced last week, to provide clarification:
Once, a man who had two daughters went off to war. Before he left, he promised to return to them, and he also promised them, “When I return, I will bring you each a fine string of pearls and a summer dress.” No one except the two girls knew about the promise. After many years, the man had not returned, and everyone presumed him dead. His daughters, however, continued to hope, believe, and wait. A decade passed, and they grew to become adult women, but neither of them forgot their father or his promises. Deep in their hearts, they continued to hope and to believe. One day a messenger came seeking the girls. Finding only one daughter, he told her, “I have news of your father. He is returning, and he sends you this gift.” The messenger presented her with a fine string of pearls.
Now both girls still believed in the promise of the father, but one had received a token of the promise, and the other had not. One had faith in the father’s promise on the basis of her hope and confidence in the father’s promise, but the other had faith in the father’s promise on the basis of the good news that she had already received and on the basis of the partial fulfillment of her father’s promise. She already had the pearls. She had no question in her mind that she would soon see her father face to face. Think of that girl’s confidence, certainty, and joy. She no longer had any doubt that her father was coming. She knew that he would bring the summer dress because she had already received the pearls.
“Chapter 4: Faith Toward God,” pg 56
A Messianic faith upon God isn’t just believing in God’s existence and it isn’t just believing that somehow, someday, God will keep all of His promises, the promise to redeem all of Israel, to return all of the exiles to their Land, to elevate the nation of Israel above all the nations, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, that God will punish the evil and reward the righteous. It’s not just believing in all that. It’s knowing that there’s actual proof, evidence witnessed by the apostles that God was beginning to keep His promises starting in their day.
Remember, the writer of Hebrews said that Abraham, the patriarchs, and all of the Jewish people came before Yeshua (Jesus) also had great faith in God but “did not receive what was promised.”
But the apostles saw the resurrected Jesus as proof of the promise of the resurrection because he was the first fruits from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20).
A Messianic faith includes believing not just that God exists but that He is just and that He keeps His promises and that He gave proof of this through the Messiah, through Jesus. The Messianic Jewish disciples did not just believe by faith that there would be a redemption, that the Kingdom of Heaven would come, and that King Messiah would ascend to the throne in Jerusalem, as the Pharisees did. They had direct evidence that the promises were starting to be fulfilled. The apostles were witnesses to this evidence and they passed their testimony to many others, both in the Land of Israel and beyond, both to the Jews but also to the Gentiles.
But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
–Matthew 13:16-17 (NASB)
That maps right back to Hebrews 11:39-40. Many great men and women of faith in the history of the Bible longed to see the beginning of the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to Israel but they died and did not see. Yet all those who lived in the time of Yeshua did see and not only did they believe, they believed by faith in the evidence and what they saw with their own eyes.
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…
–Romans 1:1 (NASB)
Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother…
–1 Corinthians 1:1 (NASB)
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…
–Ephesians 1 (NASB)
I said last week that Jesus was the messenger bringing evidence as a gift that God would do all that He said He would do. The importance of this role of Jesus was (and is) incredible, and we see how the apostles, particularly Paul, responded by inexorably linking Jesus and God, for example, in each of the salutations of his letters.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
–Romans 1:16-17 (NASB)
I’ve wondered what “faith to faith” meant, but in this case, it’s the distinction between one’s faith being through Messiah and any other faith in God, just like the difference between the two sisters in Lancaster’s parable. Faith in God, which is good and which the Jewish people have always had, when viewed and apprehended through the revelation of the Messiah and through his resurrection, becomes more than longing and is transformed into confidence and a lived hope. It’s not just “how long Moshiach, how long,” but “I have faith because I’ve seen.” The one sister in the parable held the pearls in her hands. She could see them, touch them, wear them, and she knew they came from her father and were evidence that he would return bearing his other gift. She knew that not only would he come bringing gifts for her but that he would return to both of his daughters and reward them both with his gifts, just as he promised.
Paul too desired this for both believing and unbelieving Jews.
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)
Paul would have given up his “gift” to the other “sister” if only she would believe and have the confidence that Paul possessed in God, through Messiah, that all of the New Covenant promises would be fulfilled and were in the beginning process of being fulfilled, having believed from faith to faith.
It was this confidence, through Messiah, that was the only real difference between the Messianic believers and the Pharisees, and it should foreshadow the relationship between observant Messianic Jews and other observant Jews in the modern era. Grasping this Messianic faith and knowing by evidence that it is true is like being born again, like dying and being resurrected, like submerging below the waters of the mikvah and rising again into the air.
Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith…
–Romans 16:25-26 (NASB)
“Obedience of faith.” This Messianic faith isn’t just belief, it’s a lifestyle based on the actual knowledge that God keeps His promises, that God is just, that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, that God requires repentance for the forgiveness of sins, that God requires we turn from sin and back to Him, transforming and conforming our lives to the will of God by the power of the Holy Spirit and faith in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, who is the “Gospel messenger” who delivered evidence that the promises are going to happen and are beginning to happen right now.
What Did I Learn?
This pretty much reinforces what I wrote about last week and further confirms why having faith in Yeshua as Messiah was and is the next logical step in the progression of a Jewish person’s (as well as a Gentile’s) devotion to the One God. If you do believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that his message is Good News to Israel and also to the Gentile nations, that he brought evidence as to his identity but more, that he brought evidence of God’s gifts through the revelation of his resurrection, then you have not just hope in the unseen, but a sure confidence in what has happened and in what has not yet happened but what will indeed occur. You have the pearls in your hands and believe, by faith, they came from the Father. You don’t just have to believe they will arrive someday by faith. You know they will because part of the promised gift is already with us.
If you don’t accept what the messenger said was true and you do not believe the pearls came from your Father, you still have faith, as did the Pharisees, and as many observant and faithful Jews today have, that God will keep His promises, that a Messiah will ascend the throne, that the Temple will be rebuilt, that Israel will be elevated to the head of the nations, and that the exiles will be returned to their Land, but…
…but you have set aside God’s assurances. Even though you have faith and even though you believe very, very strongly that you are doing the right thing, you still are denying something precious that God gave to you. This is what broke Yeshua’s heart (Matthew 27:37-39) and Paul’s (Romans 9:3-5). This is what makes the difference. Denying Yeshua as the Messiah is denying that God gave evidence of His promises through His revelation.
For nearly two-thousand years, Gentile Christianity has been beating up the Jewish people, calling them vile and horrible names, persecuting them, torturing and maiming them, even killing them in the name of Jesus, all because the Jewish people continually refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. But the “Messiah” that the Gentile Christians offered the Jews was not the Yeshua that the apostles knew. The Church, in splitting from the Jesus-believing Jewish ekkelsia in the early second century and later, rewrote the Gospels and reinterpreted the entire Bible to the point where Yeshua became “Jesus” and Messiah became “Christ”. All of the “good news” that would have been seen as good for the Jews now seemed like poison.
I mentioned last week that the Church is its own worst enemy, but it also has historically been the enemy of the Jews.
Messianic Judaism has come to take back their history, their Messiah, and their Bible and to say, “this belonged to us first.” Jews in Messiah have come to take back their faith toward God through the revelation of Yeshua and his resurrection. These Jews are not only like their distant ancestors, the readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but they are the first fruits of the Jewish Messianic Kingdom, the citizens of Israel, the subjects of the King. It is only through them that we Gentiles too may be saved, through the same faith they have, the faith toward God, the faith upon God, the faith Abraham had when he was called righteous (Genesis 15:6, Galatians 3:6).
“A brilliant mind without faith is like a beautiful face without eyes.”
May the hearts of all those who do not know Yeshua turn to God through Messiah’s revelation, first the Jew and also the Gentile, in the name of my Master and my King, I pray.