prohetic return

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Ani Ma’amin (I believe)

What do Maimonides and the book of Hebrews have in common? Find out how the Talmud and the book of Hebrews intersect when it comes to the question of faith in Messiah. The book of Hebrews continues with a call to hold fast to faith in the coming of the Messiah.

References Hebrews 10:32-39; Isaiah 30:18; Habakkuk 2:3-4.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Forty: Ani Ma’amin (I believe)
Originally presented on January 25, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him.

Isaiah 30:18 (NASB)

Lancaster’s sermon took a different route this week, the long way around to Hebrews 10:32-39 through the above-referenced prophets, the Talmudic writings, and Mosheh ben Maimon otherwise known as Moses Maimonides or the Rambam.

Lancaster states that the above verse from the prophet Isaiah is very important as a Messianic prophesy. The Talmud interprets “How blessed are all those who long for Him” or “wait for Him” as those among the righteous waiting for the redemption of the Messiah.

Verse 20 says “your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher,” indicating that our Teacher, that is, Messiah, is currently hidden from us (or from Isaiah’s audience, the Jewish people) but that in the coming age, he will be revealed. Verse 21 continues “Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left,” speaking of walking in the Holy Spirit (the “word behind you”).

But when it says “therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you,” this isn’t speaking of Messiah, but of Hashem, of the God of Israel, for He waits for the Messiah, too…at least according to the Talmud.

Why would God have to wait? You’ll see in a bit.

Lancaster then shifted gears and started quoting from Tractate Sanhedrin about a 3rd century CE Rabbi who came across a Gentile who had discovered a scroll in the Roman treasury. Without going into all the details, the scroll seemed to likely have been looted from Jerusalem by the Romans, perhaps from the Temple itself.

The Rabbi, who believed the scroll to be an authentic Jewish Holy writing, purchased the scroll and discovered it predicted the end of the world and the coming of the Messiah in the year 4291 from Creation, with the final renewal of the world being accomplished in the year 7000.

ancient scrollsProblem is, the Jewish year 4291 corresponds to 531 C.E. which has long since come and gone.

The Talmud uses this story to issue a stern warning against attempting to calculate the dates related to Messiah coming and an admonition against those who insist on calculating such dates. Thus far, everyone who has attempted to predict the return (or coming) of Messiah has been wrong.

This is where Habakkuk comes in:

I will stand on my guard post
And station myself on the rampart;
And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me,
And how I may reply when I am reproved.
Then the Lord answered me and said,
“Record the vision
And inscribe it on tablets,
That the one who reads it may run.
“For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
For it will certainly come, it will not delay.
“Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith.”

Habakkuk 2:1-4

Within the context of Habakkuk, this does not seem to have anything to do with Messiah. Habakkuk had just heard from God that the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem was at hand because of their many sins. Habakkuk was upset, not that God had ordered the destruction, but that He had chosen an instrument for that destruction much more evil than Judah and Jerusalem. So he sat in a guard post and waited (probably for a long time) for God to answer his objection.

That said, the Talmudic sages interpret, especially verses 3 and 4, as very much having a Messianic application, and Lancaster agrees, specifically since the Talmud interprets this portion of scripture as stating the date of Messiah’s coming is hidden. I won’t go into the nuts and bolts of Lancaster’s explanation. The link to the recording is at the top of this missive so you can listen to the forty minute sermon for yourself.

But then we get back to why is even God waiting for Messiah? Why should God wait? Why not send Messiah now?

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

God’s justice (and I believe mercy as well) demands that He wait because those of us who also wait receive a blessing by the merit of the act of waiting, for as it says “Though he tarries, wait for it” (the Hebrew pronoun can also be “him”), and again, “the righteous will live by faith”, and as it says in Isaiah, “Blessed are all those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 30:18 NKJV).

Rambam
Mosheh ben Maimon, the Rambam

Many have been born, lived, and died waiting for Messiah and he didn’t come, yet their waiting wasn’t in vain, for by the merit of their faith, they gained eternal life in the resurrection.

I mentioned the Rambam above. He codified what is known as The Thirteen Principles of Faith, the twelfth of which states:

I believe with a complete faith in the coming of Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless every day I believe that he will come.

This is also known as Ani Ma’amin (I believe) and is traditionally sung at the conclusion of the Shacharit or Morning prayers. The Talmud states that such a lived faith in the coming of the Messiah equals performing all of the 613 commandments (and the version we have today was also organized by Rambam). Yes, it’s that important.

However, when Habakkuk says that “the righteous will live by faith,” he doesn’t just mean that they live a life of faith, but that they will merit life, eternal life in the resurrection, by clinging to their faith in the coming redemption of Messiah. This is an essential principle in Judaism, according to Lancaster, and not only do we see it in the prophets and the Talmud (and Hebrews), but the Apostle Paul referenced it in Romans 1 and Galatians 3. Instead of trying to figure out when Messiah will come (return) and only expecting him then, always expect him today and every day; always live a life of daily expectancy.

Then Lancaster (apparently) switches tracks and talks about how the passage from Habakkuk is very different in the Greek. Why is that important? Because Jewish teachers used the Greek translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament) or Septuagint, when teaching Greek-speaking Jews and Gentiles. The writer of Hebrews was addressing Greek-speaking Jews living in or near Jerusalem.

For yet in a very little while,
He who is coming will come, and will not delay.
But My righteous one shall live by faith;
And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.

Hebrews 10:37-38 quoting Habakkuk 2:3-4

Especially the last line seems quite odd: And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” Lancaster says this speaks of one who shrinks back or loses his faith, specifically in the coming of Messiah, for if one loses his faith in Messiah, he loses God’s favor.

But “My righteous one shall live by faith” in that even if Messiah does not come when expected or even in your lifetime or mine, we must live by faith so that we will live in the resurrection and not lose our place in the world to come. We must seek first the Kingdom as our focus.

Now (finally) Lancaster turns to Hebrews 10:32-39.

He gives a very brief summary of the Hebrews epistle, an exhortation to Jewish believers who because of their faith in Messiah, have been denied access to the Temple and the Priesthood, and who, for that reason, are strongly tempted to renounce their Messianic faith. The Hebrews writer is encouraging them to remain faithful because they always have access to the Heavenly Temple and Priesthood through Messiah as High Priest, and warning them of the consequences of losing faith.

“But remember in former days” is a reference to the early persecutions (read the beginning chapters of Luke’s Book of Acts including the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8) and the “murderous threats” of Saul (the beginning of Acts 9). They were persecuted in many ways and yet “accepted joyfully” those hardships, enduring in the faith. “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence” for in doing so, they would also throw away their reward. They needed to endure as they did before.

Hebrews then quotes the Greek version of Habakkuk, and you should see at this point how well it fits the flow of this part of the letter, and concludes (well, not really…it just concludes the artificial division of chapters):

But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Hebrews 10:39

But there’s more. I didn’t expect Lancaster to cover Chapter 11 as well, but when he did, it clicked right into place:

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

faithThis is the so-called “faith chapter” of the Apostolic Scriptures and Christians often cite it as a “stand alone” definition of what “faith” is, without considering how it fits into the overall message of the epistle.

The writer of the epistle has been encouraging his readers to maintain their faith in the Messiah’s coming, to not abandon that faith, even under the tremendous pressure of not being able to offer korban in obedience to the commandments, for in renouncing Messiah, they would also be renouncing their reward in the Kingdom.

The rest of chapter 11 is a list of examples of people of faith who maintained that faith even though they never saw the promised rewards in their lifetimes. Abraham was promised the Land but died never receiving the promise. So too did Isaac and Jacob. Read the chapter for yourself and see what it looks like now that you have the context Lancaster constructed around it.

Lancaster concludes his sermon by reading verses 32 through 40, but I’ll just quote a portion:

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

Hebrews 11:32-34

“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me…” The list of the faithful is endless, or seemingly so. It’s not like the writer of Hebrews is asking for the impossible, as if no one who came before ever exhibited such a faith, maintaining it even to the death. While modern religious Judaism doesn’t emphasize the Messiah’s coming all that much, in ancient days, the days of the prophets, the days of the apostles, and the days of the writers of the Talmud, it was much clearer that faith in the coming (return) of Messiah was the lynchpin of Jewish faith in God and the coming New Covenant times.

What Did I Learn?

I’ll never be a Talmud scholar, so all of the tie-ins from Talmud back into scripture are a revelation to me. Lancaster said that the writer of Hebrews and the other apostles read Habakkuk exactly the same way as the sages of the Talmud. This is a very important point because it re-enforces my emphasis that you cannot know or understand having faith in the Messiah unless you study Judaism! This is why I study from within a Messianic Jewish framework.

I hate to slam Christian studies and teachings because I have high regard for those people I know in the Church, but traditional Christian doctrine compared to Messianic Jewish (and other Jewish) studies is like the difference between an eighty-year old frayed black and white still photo and the latest vibrantly colored 3D motion picture in surround sound.

I hope I’m not overstating the metaphor, but a lot of these teachings in Messianic Judaism hit me like someone opened up my skull and poured in a couple of quarts of “Ah Ha! That’s what that means!”

I was also pleasantly surprised when Lancaster mentioned having read the biography of Brother Yun, an evangelist in Communist China who suffered terribly for his faith. I also read the book at the urging of a friend, and as a reminder that I can get tremendously caught up in the “head knowledge” of the Bible at the expense of a living faith in Messiah.

The message of the epistle to the Hebrews is also a message to us nearly two-thousand years later. The Jewish believers reading this letter had a faith in the return of the Messiah who had died, was resurrected, and ascended to Heaven about thirty years prior, within the living memory of a generation, and yet they were tempted to abandon that faith. We have possession of the same faith almost twenty-centuries after the event, and no one alive on earth is a direct witness today. If they were tempted living so close in time to the flesh and blood Jesus, how much more so will we be tempted, especially in a culture of atheism, humanism, and progressiveness, to be lured into abandoning our faith in the return of Messiah?

Which is why we can’t. Which is why Hebrews 11 is so important to us as an example of living and dying and yet not receiving the promise of his return.

For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Romans 11:15

lightIf some of the Jews in Paul’s generation not coming to faith in Messiah is compared to death, but their coming to faith is compared to the resurrection. So it is with us. For those who have never come to faith and possibly never will, we can have pity, but we must mourn tragically for those who once had faith and deliberately set it aside for whatever they thought was better, perhaps under some form of social pressure to do so.

I mourn for those every day and I know more than one. Pray that they haven’t shut up their ears permanently, and that they will go from being “cast away” by their own decision, to “acceptance” once again and “life from the dead.”

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18 thoughts on “Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Ani Ma’amin (I believe)”

  1. I really enjoyed this teaching by D. Lancaster, and it brought to mind an article (by R. Lazar Brody) i read some time ago. I will quote parts of it here. (Worth reading):

    Few people realize the ramifications of Moshiach coming at this particular point in time. Let me ask you a question: what do you think Moshiach means for you, on a day-to-day basis? Will you be exempt from performing any of the mitzvoth? Not at all; on the contrary, you’ll have to be much more exacting about how you do them, and you won’t be able to fake it with external gestures. Moshiach will know exactly where your heart is and he’ll be able to smell the fear of Hashem.

    Do you think that Moshiach’s coming will provide you with an exemption from working on your character? By no means! Negative character traits like arrogance, egotism and lust will become all the more apparent once Moshiach is here. People’s uncorrected middot – character traits – will be more embarrassing than walking around with repulsive stains on their clothes. A person with less than impeccable character will feel like jumping in a hole in the ground once Moshiach comes.

    People have no idea what Moshiach is and what his coming means. Being ready for Moshiach means that we are all serving Hashem with all our hearts; we all have perfect emuna.

    So what happens if the time has come for Moshiach to arrive and we’re not on the proper spiritual level? The answer is not something most people will enjoy hearing. Nevertheless, I must explain, for people must stop living in a world of fantasy and understand the seriousness of the situation.

    A group of secret tzaddikim – whose names I am not at liberty to mention – came to visit my holy teacher, Rabbi Yehuda Zev Leibowitz osb”m, not long before he died. They composed a letter to Hashem demanding Moshiach, right now. They all signed the letter, but they lacked one critical signature, that of Rabbi Yehuda Zev. They knew that if he would sign it, then Hashem would have to bring Moshiach right away. They appealed to him, but they didn’t expect his response…

    Rabbi Yehuda Zev bolted upright in his wheelchair. He pointed a reprimanding finger at one of the secret tzaddikim. Like an upset lion, he asked, “Were you in the Holocaust?” The tzaddik shook his head in the negative. Rabbi Yehuda Zev turned individually to the second, to the third and to the fourth tzaddik and asked them the same question. None of them had lived through the Holocaust. “Well I did,” roared Rabbi Yehuda Zev, “and I saw with my own eyes the indescribable suffering that our people experienced on their own flesh. I never want to see that again! Are you willing to take responsibility for the grueling tribulations that our people will undergo as a purification process, if Moshiach comes and they’re not ready?” None of the tzaddikim were willing to accept such a responsibility. They aborted their idea then and there.

    http://www.breslev.co.il/articles/judaism/hashkafa/moshiach__now.aspx?id=26514&language=english

  2. On the other hand, would we seriously wish to pray that the Messiah would not come because we’re not ready to receive him? By that logic, that he should not come until we’re ready, he may never come! Notwithstanding such considerations, he will come “with his winnowing fork in his hand” (viz: Mt.3:12). May we be found with more substance than the chaff that will be blown away.

  3. I totally agree PL, I appreciated R. Brody’s insights in the article because i have heard many say that Messiah’s coming will change everything and there will be nothing but peace and happiness. (This is true), but they are missing to mention the important fact that we have not merited such a Redemption and his coming will bring a great purification process which will rock the world.

    There are two tekufos (time periods) to the Messiah’s process, (See – http://lawofmessiah.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/in-its-time-i-will-hasten-him/).

  4. James I was wondering have you seen the movie let the lion roar. If so have you reviewed it yet? Sorry for changing the subject.

  5. The Messiah in exile

    The Messiah dwelling outside the land of Israel is symbolic of the transfer of power from the nations to the Jewish people. Many commentators maintain that Messiah actually lives in the Diaspora, outside the land of Israel, as part of the larger Jewish community. It states in Hoshea 2:2: “Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together and appoint themselves one head; and they shall rise up out of the land.” According to the RaDaK (Rabbi David Kimchi, 1160-1235) and the Targum Yonathan, “one head” refers to King Messiah; “and they shall rise up out of the land” means “from the land of their exile they will come to their own land.” Messiah is thus currently situated in the Diaspora, from where he will lead the Jewish people back to Israel. Similarly, Targum Yonathan renders the verse in Song of Songs 8:1, “O, that you were as my brother” as “And at that time, Messiah will be revealed to the Jewish people, and they will say to him, ‘Come and be as our brother, and together we will go up to Jerusalem.”

    link: http://lawofmessiah.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/hidden-and-concealed/

  6. @Mike: People have brought that up to me before and no, I’ve not seen it. Is there some reason I should? Has anyone else reviewed it?

    @Rey: Interesting but that speaks to a realization of the Messiah that lacks the benefit of the Apostolic Scriptures. From the writings of the apostles, we understand that Messiah is our High Priest in the Heavenly Temple and that he sits at the Father’s right hand until his enemies will be made his footstool. That precludes him living an ordinary human life somewhere outside of Israel.

  7. ‘That precludes him living an ordinary human life somewhere outside of Israel.’ Unless, as in the ‘servant’ in Isaiah 40 thru 53 Israel and Messiah share characteristics. In such case, Israel in Exile can be understood to be Messiah in Exile as well. In fact, Mark Kinzer has asserted that in some mystical sense, Messiah resides within K’lal Yisrael.

  8. James, I was wondering if I could get your permission to quote a few lines from this blog and post them on Facebook? Specifically I would like to use what you said about not being able to understand faith in Messiah unless you study Judaism. I really like the way you said it and I would like other people to think about what you said. I will put a link in the Facebook post to this Meditation. Thanks!

  9. James you said: “From the writings of the apostles, we understand that Messiah is our High Priest in the Heavenly Temple and that he sits at the Father’s right hand until his enemies will be made his footstool. That precludes him living an ordinary human life somewhere outside of Israel.”

    This is speaking in a very mystical sense which the apostles did. The Sages teach that within every Jew there is a spark of Mashiach, and they (the Sages) also teach that while Israel is in exile so is Mashiach… How do we connect this with the revelation of Yeshua as Mashiach? Well it goes without saying, surely he is grieved over what is happening among his brethren and the world. He is grieved and seeks to make intercession for his people, just like Chazal speaks of the Shekhinah which goes out into exile with the Jewish people and grieves to bring the Redemption. The Mashiach is the chariot of the Shekhinah!

  10. A man (Mashiakh) is a chariot? My (!), aren’t we into some figurative territory, here? That is, of course, the point. A question juxtaposing mystical imagery of Messiah performing priestly functions in a supernal context versus imagery of him alternatively alive somewhere in the galut is trying to apply literal rules to mystical imagery. That rarely works out well. Questions about what is “really” happening with Rav Yeshua’s neshamah, or that of anyone else, outside of the space-time structure within which physical existence occurs, are another discussion altogether.

  11. PL, Rebbe Nachman speaks this imagery of the Mashiach being the chariot of the Shekhinah. Just like the Mishkan housed the Shekinah, the body is also a house…and who more worthy and highly exalted than King Mashiach. Also to see this explicitly see Rashi, Genesis 17:22.

  12. PL here is Rashi to Gen.17:22:

    “from above Abraham: This is a euphemism used in reference to the Shechinah, and we learn that the tzaddik are the chariot of the Omnipresent.” — [from Gen. Rabbah 47:6, 82:6]

    If this be true with the tzaddikim, (Kol Vachomer) how much more with the greatest tzaddik King Mashiach? This is Rebbe Nachman’s point in Likutey Moharran (I don’t have the exact source right now).

  13. @LaLuque — I’m not disputing the value of imagery and metaphor to carry various insights. I was just pointing out the difference between such envisionings and ontological reality, so that no one would draw any false conclusions from some of the spectacular clashes between various images that would be mutually exclusive if taken at face value. Some folks confuse themselves terribly when exposed to ‘Hasidic Kabbalistic symbolism, by doing so.

  14. @Rey: I am forced to disagree with the Sages from time to time and this is one of them. Their opinion (from some of them anyway) was/is that the Messiah will be a completely human Jew, born of Jewish parents, and not supernatural in any way. I don’t doubt that part of this is to put “distance” between their definition of Messiah and Christianity’s Jesus, in in this instance, I have to go with what the apostolic scriptures say about Messiah’s identity and “location”.

    As PL points out, there’s a limit to how we can understand what’s happening in the reality of the Messiah “now” since, among other things, I believe the Heavenly Court exists outside of linear time. We probably don’t have a human language that is completely adequate to discuss such a mystic reality.

  15. This one (this recording with meditation of yours) was fascinating.

    I don’t think it’ll hurt to link to more information on Habakkuk:
    http://www.biblestudytools.com/habakkuk/
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habakuk
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Habakkuk
    ______________________________________________________

    Related to the question of why Messiah doesn’t just come back now, instead of waiting or instead of us having to wait, is the question as to God not making everything perfect without vulnerability in the very beginning.

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