praying

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Sacrifice of Praise

How can we worship God without the sacrifices?” The epistle of the Hebrews points us to the text of Hosea 14:2 to answer this question, employing the same proof text and arriving at nearly the same conclusion that the sages of Yavneh offered after the destruction of the Temple. That prescient message anticipated the coming exile and offered Israel a survival guide for the long years ahead without sacrifice, without priest, and without temple.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Forty-six: Sacrifice of Praise
Originally presented on March 22, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster started his final sermon in his “Hebrews” series in what I thought was an odd place:

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.

Acts 3:1 (NASB)

You may or may not know about the Tamid or the continual burnt offering which was presented on the altar twice daily, once in the morning for the Shacharit service and once in the afternoon, at the ninth hour, for the Maariv service.

Lancaster takes his audience on a short trip through the Apostolic Scriptures to demonstrate that Yeshua (Jesus) and his Jewish disciples were devoted to worshiping in the Temple in Jerusalem “continually” (Luke 24:53), “every day” (Acts 5:42), being devoted to “the prayers” (Acts 2:42). And the set times of the prayers were at Shacharit and Maariv when a fresh lamb would be placed on the altar to burn from morning to afternoon, and then from afternoon and throughout the night, a sacrifice continually before the Lord.

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…

Romans 9:3-5 (emph. mine)

As we see, even when the Temple stood, the prayer services and the sacrifices were inexorably linked. There was no one or the other in Jewish thought. The singing and the prayers were always part of the sacrificial system that God gave to the Jewish people. This is how God said He wanted His people Israel to worship Him.

But on the 17th day of Tammuz in the year 70 C.E., all that ended. The siege of Jerusalem began and the supply of lambs was cut off. Except for the time of the Maccabees, the Tamid sacrifice had been offered day after day for five hundred years, and before the Babylonian exile, an additional 400 years. For almost a thousand years, morning and afternoon, the priests placed a lamb on the altar to burn continually before God.

And now it was all over, and the Tamid cannot be offered to this very day.

How could the Jewish people imagine worshiping God without the Temple and the sacrifices? This was how God said He was to be worshiped and now it is impossible. The grief, sorrow, and separation from God must have been almost unimaginable.

But even before the Temple was destroyed and years if not decades before the Roman siege on Jerusalem began, the Greek-speaking Jewish disciples of Messiah, the readers of this epistle we’ve been discussing for the past year, were asking themselves the same question.

And here’s the answer:

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you and return to the Lord.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips.

Hosea 14:1-2

In verse two, the phrase “fruit of our lips” isn’t quite correct. The Hebrew literally says bulls of our lips,” but that sounded strange to those who later translated the Jewish texts into Greek, so those translators changed the Hebrew word slightly to say “fruit”.

The Sacrifice - detailBut Hosea knew what he was trying to say to his audience, the Hebrews who were offering sacrifices, not in the Temple in Jerusalem which is the only place on Earth God has said it was His will that the sacrifices be made, but to Golden Calves, one in Dan and the other in Bethel.

What did the prophet call for them to do? Return and repent…to offer “words” which are words of repentance and prayer.

Lancaster quoted from Exodus Rabbah to illustrate that after the Temple was destroyed, the sages used these verses from Hosea to salvage Judaism, to design the synagogue system with its daily times of prayers that correspond to the times of the Tamid sacrifices at the Temple, and in which each prayer maps to a specific sacrifice.

Now we get to the end of the Book of Hebrews.

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.

Hebrews 13:15 (emph. mine)

When a Christian sees this verse and thinks about continually offering prayer, they think “prayer without ceasing,” but that’s not how this passage is meant to be read within the context of first century Judaism. “Continually” summons the ritual of the Tamid sacrifices and the daily set times of prayer, and we see “fruit of lips” being rendered in the Greek but which refers to the original meaning of “bulls”.

So, long before the Rabbinic sages determined that the only way to continue to obey God and to worship Him was to substitute the prayers for the sacrifices in the Temple, it was already being addressed by the Prophet Hosea and much later, by the writer of the Hebrews letter.

But for the readers of the epistle and for all of their Jewish brothers and sisters, it was well-known that one does not offer a sacrifice without a priest. So if prayers are to substitute for sacrifices, then they are offered through the High Priest in the Heavenly Temple, through Yeshua.

But that’s not all of the answer, just most of it.

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit (bulls) of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Hebrews 13:15-16

The whole answer of how a Jewish person was to worship God without the Temple was through:

  • The set times of prayer
  • Doing good
  • Sharing with others

And on this answer was built the entire Jewish liturgical prayer service we see in the synagogue today. What served as a word of exhortation for the Yeshua-believing Jews cut off from the Temple service by the Sadducees while the Temple was still standing, became the answer for untold generations of Jews who have lived and died since the destruction of Jerusalem nearly two-thousand years ago.

Lancaster (and he delivered this sermon about eight months ago) said he had just read Aaron Eby’s book, which I have recently mentioned, First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer. He quoted from Aaron’s book saying that if one only used liturgical prayer in worshiping God and only prayed with a minyan, then that person would be missing out on something, for the prayer service can be “tragically impersonal”.

Judaism makes a distinction between corporate and personal prayer, and man was meant to engage in both. Participation in the Jewish prayer services, at least in some small manner, is as if you have participated in the Temple services, which as Lancaster mentioned, is quite a privilege for a Messianic Gentile. It also summons the prophesy that God’s Temple will be a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7, Matthew 21:13).

What Did I Learn?

I was struck with Lancaster’s presentation of how Judaism was salvaged by the sages on the strength of Hosea 14:1-2. I know many Christians who love the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. However, they just don’t love Judaism. They expect those Jews who enter the Messianic Age to come will convert to Christianity and leave Judaism behind. They can’t imagine that the salvation of the practice of Judaism is a good thing or in any sense, could be pleasing to God. They think Judaism is a man-made religion of vain works, manufactured in order to replace the Biblical commandments God issued to Israel telling them how He wants to be worshiped.

synagogueBut Lancaster makes a good case for the synagogue service being a continuation of Biblical instruction and a direct response to the commandments to make teshuvah and return to God through the prayers (avoda), through good deeds (the mitzvot), and charity (tzedakah).

This is how the very first non-Jewish disciples of Messiah would have worshiped alongside their Jewish teachers and mentors. This is how the disciples Paul made in Antioch would have served God, through the set times of prayer, doing good deeds, and through acts of charity. It must have looked very Jewish.

Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.

Acts 10:1-2 (emph. mine)

Cornelius didn’t pray without ever stopping, he prayed at the set times of the Tamid offerings. I knew this based on other verses in this chapter, but Lancaster’s example is just one more support for this belief.

In all good conscience, I don’t think we Gentile Christians have much of a leg to stand on if we oppose Messianic Jews practicing (Messianic) Judaism and speak against the synagogue service. If we can accept, even to the smallest degree, that the sages had (and have) a right and responsibility to shepherd the Jewish people in the continuation of devotion to God after the destruction of Jerusalem, then who is to say that their interpretation and application of Hosea 14:1-2 is wrong? Who is to say that Messianic Jews continuing the practice of Judaism as it was established at the beginning of the modern era, and as it has been developed by the Rabbinic sages over the long centuries is wrong?

Maybe it really is a privilege for Messianic Gentiles like me to be able to participate in the synagogue service in anticipation of entering the Temple and praying in God’s House in the days of Messiah.

Conclusion

This has been a long study but an enjoyable one. I was speaking with a friend the other day about some of Lancaster’s points on this epistle, and I could tell by his facial expression and his deliberate silence that he didn’t agree with everything I was saying. That’s OK. It’s possible that Lancaster isn’t 100% correct in each and every little detail, but which Biblical teacher or scholar is? I am still reasonably convinced that Lancaster’s interpretation is viable and sustainable, and it has the advantage of agreeing with the rest of the Bible, especially the Torah and the Prophets, rather than contradicting it and rather than contradicting what I believe to be the will of God for the Jewish people, for the nation of Israel, for the Jewish practice of Judaism, and for the future Messianic Age.

This epistle has been a royal pain in my neck for a long time. It just seemed to say many things that directly went against what I read in the rest of the Bible, including the other portions of the Apostolic Scriptures. This “proof” that Jesus and the spiritual world replaced the Temple, the Torah, the Priests, and everything God said in the first two-thirds of the Bible has never set well with me but it’s in the Bible so what was I to do? Yes, I heard of one guy who made a big deal in certain circles of saying that the Book of Hebrews was either mistakenly canonized or was admitted into canon by Gentile believers in an attempt (apparently a successful one) to remove all vestiges of Judaism from Gentile Christian practice and theology.

As it turns out, such a rejection of scripture isn’t necessary. What is necessary is to engage the text on its own terms and within its own context, not through the lens of almost twenty centuries of Christian interpretive tradition, reinventing the wheel, and revisionist history.

Rolling the Torah ScrollLike my friend, you may choose not to agree with how Lancaster interprets Hebrews but I think his sermons and this study shows that the problem may not be with the Bible but with the traditions we use to read it. Lancaster chooses to use Jewish traditions which renders the meaning of the epistle in a very different and, in my opinion, refreshing way.

I don’t know if I’m ready to jump into another commitment to a recorded series on the heels of ending this one. I could use a break. Besides, I have plenty of other things I can write about.

I hope you enjoyed these reviews as much as I enjoyed listening to Lancaster’s sermons on the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews.

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9 thoughts on “Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Sacrifice of Praise”

  1. So far, I’ve only made it through twenty or so of the series messages by Lancaster on Hebrews. I don’t know if I will make it back to the rest for awhile…it seems that there is always something to get in the way…things to read, things to write, other people to listen to.

    Lancaster does have some interesting things to say, and some suppositions and possibilities that can be considered, and worked through with the Ruach haKodesh, even though it is against traditional ‘Christian’ interpretation, or ‘Judaic’, for that matter, since it is a Messianic Judaic viewpoint. Lancaster is not faultless, and I have heard a few things that jar me in the discerning pit of my stomach, but they are slight, nit picky little things that are not of great importance when explaining the text Lancaster is expounding.

    I would rather know all the viewpoints that are out there, even some that attack the foundations of my beliefs, than not have considered, and resolved every question that the Adversary can raise. The day has not yet come that the Ruach has not been able to set my newly raised doubts to rest. The more that new points are brought to my attention the more I can allow ideas in to be considered, weighed in the balance, and kept or discarded.

    In the end, I am more completely informed, more wholly aware of how each piece of the Scriptural puzzle fits together, and more at rest with G-d, though I doubt Lancaster would relish being thought a tool for the Adversary to raise up conflicts in textual understanding or interpretation.

    I am sure that Lancaster already knows that those people who walk outside the safety of a protected Christian or Judaic box of Biblical concepts are actually relishing having something to get their teeth into, even if like a dog we worry the bone into splinters before we have the sense to ask G-d for clarification.

  2. By the way, I don’t think that most Christians are aware that sacrifices are not made without a High Priest, though they and we have a permanent on in Yeshua. I have to presume that the Jews know this, and have considered it, and are paying it forward to Mashiach, so to speak, not knowing what else to do.

    Perhaps Proclaim Liberty might give us some insight here.

  3. Giving some thought to Questors’s question — For the present era in which the second exile has not quite reached its full conclusion, lacking an operationally qualified sanctuary and Levitical system, we must continue to rely on the exilic principle derived from Hos.14:1-2 — which is to say: reliance upon HaShem’s own ‘hesed. That is always the right starting point, and it is also the foundation upon which the heavenly sanctuary operates as we see it in the Hebrews letter.

    We have no information in the Tenakh about the functioning of a priest in the heavenly sanctuary equivalent to the Cohanim in the earthly one — indeed, we barely recognize that the heavenly one exists as the archetype for the earthly one. If we project backward from the viewpoint of the author of Hebrews, perhaps Melchitzedek himself served as such a priest before Rav Yeshua became available and qualified to do so, since apparently he is the archetype of its heavenly priesthood. Regardless of speculations about such structural details, what is important to humans is to bring before HaShem the offering of their trust and reliance upon Him. They do not need to concern themselves about who is serving as their mediator, as long as the mediator performs his service. Knowing the identity of that mediator may be beneficial in other ways, but it is not a critical factor in the atoning process.

    In the periods when either Tabernacle or Temple were operational, personal atonement did not depend on which Cohen was serving. National atonement on Yom haKippurim depended on the actions of the high priest, but he was not required for each individual daily sacrifice, except perhaps as a symbolic figurehead. And in no case did the people of Israel need to know anything about who might be serving in the heavenly sanctuary, even if they had any consciousness that the validity of their earthly offerings was assured by the operation of a heavenly one. Thus we may deduce that the efficacy of atonement depends on the attitude of the repentant sinner and not on the identity of the mediator. Considering the likely negative reaction of most modern traditional Jews, if they were to be confronted with the notion of Rav Yeshua as the individual who was interceding with HaShem on their behalf, to transform their repentance into atonement, it is probably for the best if his identity should be concealed until they may be better-prepared to receive the information. [:)]

  4. @Peter: Thank you for the kind words.

    @Questor: I think I even said in the blog post that Lancaster isn’t likely to be 100% correct in everything, but I also said “who is?”. My point is that there are too few believers who are taking a serious look at the Epistle to the Hebrews and challenging Christian interpretive tradition. What we need to do is what the Reformation failed to do. Go all the way back to the beginning and re-examine the Bible, setting aside *all* of the traditions Christianity has built up around it that prevent us from perceiving the text in the intent and spirit in which it was written.

    @PL: Since the Heavenly Court is timeless, I wonder, in some metaphysical sense, if Yeshua has always been the High Priest. Without the passage of time, terms like “before,” “during,” and “after” only operate in our universe. But then again, such speculation isn’t going to take us anywhere since we can’t really know how things work in the Heavenly realm.

    That said, you bring up an interesting point about how the High Priest wasn’t directly involved in most of the daily sacrifices. If there is a “sacrificial system” in Heaven that is an analog to the earthly Temple, then are their angelic priests who offer them? Just thinking “out loud,” so to speak.

  5. @James — While the heavenly court and the heavenly sanctuary are no doubt timeless, human repentance and redemption are rooted in linear time, as are the Messiah’s actions in both the ben-Yosef and ben-David roles. Hence there must likewise exist some corresponding linkage between operations in the heavenly and earthly sanctuaries. So it would seem that there yet may be heavenly validity to the terms “before”, “during”, and “after”. Certainly there must be significance in the sequencing that makes Melchitzedek the pattern upon whom the order of heavenly priesthood is based and named, rather than identifying Rav Yeshua as the sole representative of heavenly priesthood.

    On the other hand, one cannot dismiss the perspective that Jews before Rav Yeshua’s time (even Avraham himself) could look forward in anticipation of the messianic redemption even as we today must look backward to the ben-Yosef redemption and forward to the ben-David redemption. Hence there is a timelessness to the metaphorical functioning of messianic redemption; and looking across linear time in one direction or other might be considered analogous to physically turning to face the Jerusalem Temple from wherever one might be located on the globe. Thus one sacrifice may suffice for all of time, and one high priest — though we must still puzzle over the role of Melchitzedek (or even that of Henoch/Metatron). Then I think we don’t need to enlist the aid of any hypothetical angelic priests for numerous heavenly sacrifices, if one timeless one is sufficient to serve as the focus for repentance initiated from any given location in the time-stream. So a timelessly effective symbolic sacrifice, that is nonetheless anchored at a location in the time-stream, does not make Rav Yeshua to have been “always” the Melchitzedekian High Priest — anymore than the earthly sanctuary had to be located in all places in order to be effective. One physical location is sufficient to focus prayer from any location; one time location suffices for all time.

    How’s *that* for “thinking out loud”?

  6. Pretty “loud.”

    About repentance being linear, from our point of view, that’s true, but I wonder if, even though it took Hashem seven “days” to create everything, if God perceives all of past and future human history in an instant? If so, then from God’s POV, He immediately knew/knows who ultimately repents and who doesn’t, as if He created the universe already aware of each living soul, how they would be born, live, and die, and in what state of holiness (or lack thereof) they would/will/did exist. The Bible has to communicate with us in a way we understand but that doesn’t mean it represents God’s actual “lived” experience, so to speak.

  7. Thank you, Proclaim Liberty…that was pretty much what I was driving towards…a single and only High Priest, no matter where stationed in this universe, and it’s sense of precession on a linear scale of time.

    I don’t imagine that G-d is limited in any sense as to time…I have rather been wondering about a kind of multi-dimensional time as well as place, rather than a single universe with a linear stream of time, but I imagine it’s too complicated for anyone except G-d to make proper use of it. By multi dimensional time, I guess I mean the ability to be exactly within any point in time, to enter it, and see what has happened, and what needs amending or chastising in order to make Jame’s discription of G’d completed life painting in order to be completed in steadily increasing beauty.

    @ James…Yes, sorry I restated what you had already said about Lancaster not being 100%. I enjoy him anyway, and appreciate what he brings to the table of learning. Until Yeshua is teaching us Himself, I doubt we will be getting all of the picture, even with the Ruach pointing at things over our shoulder. I look forward in my mind to a place where we Believers can sit at His feet, and drink in whatever He cares to expound on in the final Temple.

    As for God knowing everything before it happens, yes, I too think that Abba can send His focus of attention into every part of the timeline, and know what is going to happen, and to whom, and why. Some people call it predestination, but it seems to be more of a living artwork that Abba is working with. He knows what we will think and do, and can gently lead those who will listen to Him into higher places if they will only pay attention. Still, I tend to think that Abba is absent mindedly watching the outcome with one small part of His mind, and being involved more fully in the current portion of the stream of life He has set in motion, just so He can enjoy every one of our crayon drawings as we give it to Him, pleased we can show what we have done with His help to our Daddy, and be loved and praised for such simplistic artwork.

  8. @James — I suspect that any attempt to envision HaShem’s “lived” experience will remain quite beyond our ability to conceive, at least until we become ourselves glorified and incorruptible at the resurrection or rapture. HaShem has revealed to us an image of His perspective that can fit within our limited perceptual capabilities, because it is, in fact, His intention to interact with us. For now, that must suffice. We must work within the space-time constructs and constraints that He created for our benefit. Beyond them we lack the frames of reference that we need for our perceptual apparatus to function.

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