Tag Archives: Book of Hebrews

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Better Promises

The Messiah “has obtained a more excellent priesthood” than the Aaronic priesthood because he is “the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). What are the better promises? How well do you really know the “new covenant”? This discourse takes a closer look at the “better promises” of the new covenant as described in the prophecies of Jeremiah.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Two: Better Promises
Originally presented on November 23, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

I covered the vast majority of the material from today’s sermon in my previous review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s lecture “Better Promises” from his What About the New Covenant audio CDs.

In comparing my notes from today’s sermon with my prior review, I found that they were almost identical, so I suppose you could just click the link I provided above, read that review, and then call it good.

But, I think I’ll go over some of that material again. It can always use repeating.

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.

Hebrews 8:6 (NASB)

Better promises. Jesus (Yeshua) is supposed to be a High Priest in Heaven with a superior priesthood to the Levites, and a mediator of a superior covenant than the Old Covenant based on better promises. What are these better promises?

night-and-dayTo find out, we have to go to Jeremiah 31 since the New Covenant isn’t in the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament), it’s in the Tanakh (Old Testament):

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name:
“If this fixed order departs
From before Me,” declares the Lord,
“Then the offspring of Israel also will cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”
Thus says the Lord,

“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done,” declares the Lord.

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the city will be rebuilt for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will go out farther straight ahead to the hill Gareb; then it will turn to Goah. And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the Lord; it will not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.”

Jeremiah 31:31-40 (NASB)

I broke out the different better promises step-by-step in my previous review but now I’ll just give them as numbered and bulleted lists. But first a few introductory points.

  • This is a prophesy about the end of times, the Messianic future, the final redemption.
  • It is a prophesy that the New Covenant will be like the Old (Sinai) Covenant in that it will also be made exclusively with the House of Judah and the House of Israel, that is, with the Jewish people. The Gentile nations are not mentioned, just as they are not mentioned in the Sinai Covenant.
  • It’s not like the Old (Sinai) Covenant in that it’s based on better promises.

And now, just what are those better promises?

  1. The Torah will be written on every Jew’s heart so that every Jew will intuitively, naturally obey God’s commandments.
  2. God will be Israel’s God and they will be His people. This is the promise of redemption and is actually marital language based on a marriage declaration a man made to a woman in the ancient near east.
  3. Every Jew will have an intimate and inclusive knowledge of God, a personal knowledge of God rather than knowing about God.
  4. God will completely and permanently forgive Israel of all of her sins (see Romans 11:25-27).
  5. Israel will always be a nation before God, that is, the Jewish people will always be a separate and unique national, physical entity called Israel in God’s sight, just as long as there is such a thing seasons, the sun, the moon, and the stars.
  6. Jerusalem, the Holy City, the center of King Messiah’s government, will be rebuilt

Those are great promises but there’s still more. If you read Jeremiah 32:36-42, a number of promises are present including:

  • The ingathering of the Jews.
  • The redemption of the Jews.
  • The betrothal.
  • The Torah written on Jewish hearts.
  • The New Covenant will be everlasting.
  • The New Creation.

Cutting BranchesBut that’s not all (I feel like some cheesy salesman selling vegetable choppers on the shopping channel *jk*). Jeremiah 33:14-26 speaks of God’s promise to raise up a “righteous branch” from the House of David, which is King Messiah, as well as rebuild the Temple, restore the Levitical priesthood, and reinstitute the sacrifices. And these promises can only be broken if day and night should cease to exist.

The latter verses speak of how the nations say that Israel is not a nation before God and that God has rejected Israel (which historically the Church has done). God is telling foolish ones who say such things that if day and night cease only then would God reject Israel. This is rhetorical language meaning that God will never reject His people Israel, the Jewish people. Never.

These are all terrific promises and there are still more that are written in the books of the prophets Amos, Ezekiel, Joel, Micah, and others.

Yes, they’re all great promises…if you’re Jewish.

But what about the Gentiles? What about us?

I also covered the answer to this question in my previous review but I think Lancaster worded part of his answer differently here.

What Did I Learn?

What did I learn new about how Gentiles are included in the New Covenant when we aren’t explicitly included in the New Covenant? Lancaster mentioned Abraham but didn’t explicitly describe how a portion of the Abrahamic Covenant is connected to Gentile inclusion in New Covenant blessings. You can read about that in a detailed summary I wrote.

Lancaster did say that as a result of the Acts 15 legal decision made by the Council of Apostles and Elders, Gentiles were given an honorary status within the commonwealth of Israel, an affiliation with the Jewish people by being grafted in as adopted sons and daughters of Abraham. By sharing Abraham’s faith, we are the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham that “all the families of the earth will be blessed” through him.

Lancaster said that Gentiles have a share in the New Covenant but (and it’s a big but) only by virtue of their/our association with Israel, that is, the nation of the Jews, through our faith in Messiah, for as the Master said to the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).

But how?

According to Lancaster (and this is where you may think that things are getting a little bit fuzzy), King Messiah conquers the world, that is, he defeats all of the armies that go up against Israel in the final war. And since he conquers every nation on Earth, he annexes them and their people. And under that annexation, God extends the New Covenant blessings to include the people of those annexed nations, effectively granting them (us) citizenship under the Messiah’s government; citizenship in the Kingdom.

This could be a problem because some people have told me that even in Messianic Days, there will be nations not sworn to acknowledge the King of Israel as their King and people who remain disobedient. That means, if correct, that Messiah does not conquer literally all of the nations and some remain outside his authority.

However, according to Lancaster, for those Gentiles in the present age who have sworn an oath of fealty to the King, we are already annexed, so to speak, and thus gain access as vassel servants to the King, achieving citizenship in the Kingdom of God now, even though it has not yet arrived.

This goes back to the themes I’ve addressed in a number of my blog posts over the last week or two about the actual status of Gentiles as disciples of the Master in relation to the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and obedience to the Torah mitzvot.

sefer-torahLancaster tossed around terms like “Torah written on Gentile hearts,” “commonwealth of Israel,” and “citizenship” without so much as a “by-your-leave,” but I don’t think he was implying anything you could call “One Law”.

He seems to be saying that when the New Covenant’s better promises are delivered in full to the Jewish people and they are made into a strong and mighty nation, a nation that is at the head of all the nations, those of us who are among the Gentile nations who have been loyal to the Messiah King and who have served him will also be blessed with the fruits of those same promises. Indeed, we are already being blessed as we serve him and cleave to him (which may not necessarily require wearing a kippah and tallit if you aren’t Jewish).

For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.

2 Corinthians 1:19-20 (NASB)

God’s promises find their “yes” in Messiah. All the many promises I listed above and so much more have their “yes” in Jesus Christ for those who believe and who faithfully serve the King and the Kingdom until it comes and then beyond.

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Messiah Psalm

Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted text in the New Testament. Why? And what did Yeshua mean when he quoted it to challenge the concept of a Davidic Messiah?

Listen to a study of Hebrews 4:14-5:6 which unwraps Psalm 110 and introduces the priesthood of Messiah. “The Messiah Psalm” offers discussion about the Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110 as it appears in the teaching of Yeshua (Mark 12) and the Epistle of Hebrews.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirteen: The Messiah Psalm
Originally presented on April 13, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him,

“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You”;
just as He says also in another passage,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 4:14-5:6 (NASB)

Lancaster teaches some really interesting things in this session, but we have to get there first.

As he often does, Lancaster begins by recapping his previous sermon, in this case by reminding us that we need a priest to approach God, to approach paradise, because we have big angels and a flaming sword keeping us out.

Lancaster also reminds us of who the original readership of the writer of the Hebrews epistle was, and it sure wasn’t us, that is, twenty-first century (Gentile) Christians. The original audience, from Lancaster’s point of view, were first century Hellenistic Jews living in Judea. They had just suffered the martyrdom of James the Just, brother of the Master, the head of the Apostolic Council, along with other important leaders, and they had either just been denied access to the Temple and Priesthood or they were about to be denied. The Sadducees, who controlled access to the Temple, never got along with the Master Yeshua (Jesus) because they deny the resurrection and the existence of the divine soul, both of which the Master taught.

PriestsFrom a Christian’s point of view, it’s very important to realize that the Jewish disciples of the Master did not have a problem with the Temple or the Priesthood at all. They only had a problem with the corruption of the Sadducees who at that point in history controlled access to the Priesthood and the Temple sacrifices. Most Christians read Hebrews as the anti-Levitical Priesthood and anti-Temple book in the Bible, so it’s important to point out these distinctions.

In the next part of the sermon, Lancaster takes us on a small but important detour away from Hebrews and into the Gospel of Mark:

They came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him, and began saying to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?”

Mark 11:27-28 (NASB)

Lancaster says that Yeshua evaded the question for about a chapter and then got down to the heart of the matter.

By chapter 12, verse 34, Jesus had so deftly responded to all of his challengers that no one dared to ask him anymore questions. Then Jesus had a question of his own:

And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ [Messiah] is the son of David?”

Mark 12:35 (NASB)

This is one of those questions that if we don’t consider the context of what was going on and we don’t apprehend the query in the manner of a first-century Jew, we’ll completely miss the meaning. Asking if the Messiah is the Son of David is like asking if the Pope is Catholic. Of course, he is! It’s incredibly obvious. So why did Jesus ask this question?

David himself said in the Holy Spirit,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet.”’

David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; so in what sense is He his son?” And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.

Mark 12:36-37 (NASB)

Jesus quotes from Psalm 110. It was common for him to refer to older scriptures, so on the surface, this doesn’t seem unusual. It was common for Paul and the other apostles to quote from previous scriptures, so again, it doesn’t seem to be an unusual event.

King DavidBut of all the Old Testament scriptures quoted in the New Testament, Psalm 110 is the one quoted most often, being cited a total of fifteen times, with nine of those mentions in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The apostles related to Psalm 110 as one of these most noteworthy Messianic prophesies (with Psalm 2 being the other). What was Jesus, and later the writer to the Hebrews, trying to say that we miss, especially in English?

Lancaster tells us that English language Bibles render Psalm 110 poorly because they generally translate the words “my Master” and “Hashem” both as “Lord”. This gives the impression that God is talking to Himself.

Lancaster reads the ESV translation of Psalm 110 but with some slight differences that render it more comprehensible. I’ll reproduce it here with those differences formatted in bold and underlined text.

Hashem says to my Master:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Hashem sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
Hashem has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Master is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

Psalm 110

The craziness of this Psalm is that David, under inspiration from the Holy Spirit, referred to his descendent, his “son” as it were, as his “Master.” No son is Master of his father. This was Yeshua’s point. The Messiah was surely the Son of David but Psalm 110 also understands that Messiah is more than the Son of David. If Messiah was only the Son of David, he would be seated at David’s right hand.

Licht senderSince Messiah is seated at God’s right hand, whose son does that make him (hint, hint)?

Lancaster read from a collection of traditional Jewish midrash which incredibly, has Abraham also asking why Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham ultimately, is seated at God’s right hand.

The Even Zohar, Rabbi Yeshiel Tzvi Lichtenstein in his commentary on Mark 12:25 states that Messiah was indeed the Son of David in the flesh and the Son of God in the Spirit.

Yeshua was confirming that he was the Messiah, Son of David and Son of God. Lancaster says it was Yeshua’s interpretation of Psalm 110 that resulted in his execution.

Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.

Mark 14:61-64 (NASB)

If the high priest had just asked “are you the Messiah” and Jesus had said “yes,” maybe he could have been wrong but it wouldn’t be blasphemy. But the high priest asked if Jesus was Messiah and Son of God, and Jesus answered yes. That’s what caused the high priest to condemn Jesus to death.

Now back to Hebrews 4 and our need for a high priest.

Lancaster spent a fair amount of time stating that Jesus had to be fully a human being, not just God or an angel masquerading as a human being. When Jesus was tempted, it had to be completely possible for him to give in to temptation and sin. It’s not temptation if there isn’t a real risk of sinning and if it was actually impossible for Jesus to sin, then he wasn’t really tempted, and therefore, he wasn’t really human. It had to be very possible for Jesus to sin, just like the rest of us. The only difference is that unlike the rest of us, Jesus passed every test and never, ever sinned.

This is where I got stuck last week, since it seems like someone who passed every test still wouldn’t be able to empathize with all of humanity because only he passed all the tests. The rest of us fail.

The High PriestBut in his sermon, as Lancaster entered Hebrews 5, he said this was a very important point. When the writer of Hebrews describes the high priest in verses 1 and 2, he’s not thinking of the then corrupt Sadduceeian high priest, but the ideal among high priests, Aaron. Ironically, one of Aaron’s highest qualifications, according to Lancaster, for the high priesthood was his sin in the incident of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32). It was because Aaron sinned that he could empathize with the weakness of the Israelites and have compassion as he atoned for their sins.

But this presents a problem, at least in an eternal sense.

…he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.

Hebrews 5:2-3 (NASB)

Aaron, or the idealized high priest, could “deal gently with the ignorant and misguided” but on the other hand, he still had to offer sacrifices for himself because he too sinned.

While Aaron was the greatest and most noble of the high priests, there was still one who had better qualifications, one who could also empathize and “deal gently with the ignorant and misguided” but ”One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Verse 5 quotes from Psalm 110 and verse 6 is the writer’s proof text:

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Lancaster leaves us hanging at the meaning of “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” so I suppose we’ll have to wait until next week to get into what all that’s about.

What Did I Learn?

I liked the “straightening out” of Psalm 110 so that it becomes easier to tell “who’s who” in the text. Also, I found the emphasis of Lancaster (and the writer of Hebrews) on the humanity of Jesus compelling. I’ve heard Christians refer to Jesus again and again as a “man-god,” which makes him sound like something out of a science fiction or fantasy novel rather than who he was and is. It’s fascinating to consider Jesus, our high priest in the Heavenly Court, as fully a human being and out of that sinless humanity, he is able to empathize with flawed and failing people in his being the atonement for our sins. I still struggle with how one who has never failed, as Aaron failed, could ever really feel empathy and completely understand, not only real temptation and the risk of failure, which Jesus did experience, but also how we actually, miserably fail, which Jesus never experienced.

The Death of the MasterIf Jesus had failed, he’d understand us better, but if he failed, he would have been disqualified and never would have ascended to be seated at Hashem’s right hand as our Master.

I can imagine this interpretation presenting some difficulties for many Christians relative to the traditional understanding of the “Godhead” and Trinitarian doctrine. I don’t think Lancaster is challenging this necessarily, but he is forcing us (me, anyway) to view the nature and character of Messiah differently. He was, and arguably still is, fully and completely human and the Son of David according to the flesh, but also fully and completely the Son of God according to the Spirit. How this works, I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone really knows, although there are plenty of opinions to go around, including the denial of the Master’s divine nature completely.

I can only imagine that Lancaster in his analysis of the Book of Hebrews, may have taken this one on as his sermon series progressed. Right now, at the end of sermon thirteen, we’re hanging at the priesthood of Melchizedek. Next week, Hashem be willing, we’ll learn more.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Book and the Sword

Hebrews 4:11-16 speaks of a fearsome sword that divides soul and spirit, joint and marrow, and reveals the inner intentions of the heart. Discover the edenic background to the double-edged sword of the book of Hebrews and the Way to the tree of life.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twelve: The Book and the Sword
Originally presented on April 6, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:11-16 (NRSV)

D. Thomas Lancaster started this week’s sermon by going over the sense of distance we sometimes (often?) perceive exists between us and God. I’ve experienced that distance more than once. I’ve attributed that distance to my own faults and failures. After all, what else could it be?

Lancaster went through the ancient, traditional approach that people took to “access” God. As I’ve always surmised, why should an infinite, omnipotent, God want or have to listen to one tiny mortal human being? Who do we think we are, anyway that God should be mindful of us?

So usually ancient man had to go to a god’s temple, bring an appropriate sacrifice, and allow the priest of the temple to offer the sacrifice on our behalf. They needed a priest.

I can already see where Lancaster is going and the expected Christian response that, as believers, we are now our own priests (1 Peter 2:5) and don’t need an intercessor. God removed the veil separating man from the most holy place (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38).

But let’s wait and see how far and in what direction Lancaster takes this sermon.

Lancaster says the requirement of a priest did not always exist. Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden, in Gan Eden, in paradise and there was nothing between them and Him.

But that didn’t last too long.

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” — therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

Genesis 3:22-24 (NRSV)

Leaving EdenNo, the cherubim are not cute, little, baby-like angels. The keruvim are big, dangerous, fierce angelic beings with a flaming sword, no less, turning in each direction to bar the way to the tree of life.

And human beings walked out of Eden and have been in exile ever since, trying to find a way back, trying to return to paradise, and even we, who have put our faith and devotion in Messiah, are still separated from God, still in exile, still on the outside looking in, some of us more than others, it seems.

He slaughtered the ox and the ram as a sacrifice of well-being for the people. Aaron’s sons brought him the blood, which he dashed against all sides of the altar, and the fat of the ox and of the ram—the broad tail, the fat that covers the entrails, the two kidneys and the fat on them, and the appendage of the liver. They first laid the fat on the breasts, and the fat was turned into smoke on the altar; and the breasts and the right thigh Aaron raised as an elevation offering before the Lord, as Moses had commanded.

Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he came down after sacrificing the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the offering of well-being. Moses and Aaron entered the tent of meeting, and then came out and blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.

Leviticus 9:18-24 (NRSV)

Lancaster showed us in the verses above, the inaugeration of the duty of the Levitical priesthood. So now only priests can enter into the presence of the Lord and only after making extensive preparations on their own behalf as well as on the behalf of those they represent.

Again, I know what you’re thinking, Christians. Hang on. The answer is coming.

burning-bushIs there a way back to Eden, a way back to the level of intimacy that Adam and Eve (or Chava, actually) enjoyed with Hashem? Is there a way past the keruvim and the flaming sword?

Lancaster took a look at the sword through the lens of rabbinic commentary, principally Genesis Rabbah, and came up with different opinions about the sword. Some say it is angels, and others flaming Gehenna. One Rabbi said circumcision. The final opinion is that the sword is Torah, for as it says:

Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples…

Psalm 149:6-7 (NRSV)

Lancaster then took his audience over some previous territory:

For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty…

Hebrews 2:2 (NRSV)

The word “message” in Greek is “logos” or “word” and is representative of the Torah, and it contains judgment for disobedience of transgressions, just as the sword was God’s response for disobedience at Eden.

The sword is logos, Torah, God’s standard, God’s instruction. How can we get past God’s judgment, past the sword, is there a way back to Eden?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (NRSV)

It’s no coincidence that the ancient name for the Jewish worship stream devoted to Yeshua (Jesus) was called “the Way.” Genesis 3:24 says the sword guarded the way to the tree of life” (emph. mine). Just like Israel in the days of the Tabernacle, in the days of the Temple, the writer of Hebrews is telling his Jewish readers that they need a priest to help them draw nearer to God, but even though they had priests to intercede and offer sacrifices in Herod’s temple, there was an even greater priest in an even greater, heavenly Temple, and only through him could they, can we approach any level of intimacy with God.

But this is no easy thing. One does not simply declare that they “believe in Jesus” and suddenly it’s alright and everything’s groovy. In Rabbinic interpretation, the Torah was given with a sword so that if Israel obeyed God, the Torah would save them from the sword, and if Israel did not obey God, the sword would mete out judgment, which as we see many times in the record of the Tanakh (Old Testament), that is exactly what happened.

Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book.

-Pirkei Avot 2:1

All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

Isaiah 53:6 (NASB)

There is none righteous, not even one…

Romans 3:10 (NASB)

lightEven the mere thought of entering into the presence of God should send us into fear and trembling, for who is without sin, and who has not disobeyed the most powerful, almighty, infinite God? It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).

The sword, the Torah, is God’s standard of righteousness and it judges us. In and of ourselves, we cannot pass by the flaming sword and enter into God’s presence in paradise.

But there is some good news:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NRSV)

Once a year in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, the High Priest would go through a special set purification rites and sacrifices for himself simply to prepare to enter into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, on Yom Kippur, to present the annual offerings to atone for the sins of the nation.

But he had to do this once a year, and he had to offer many sacrifices just to atone for his own sins first, so he could be in such a state of purity in order to be acceptable enough to enter into the Most Holy Place in the earthly Temple.

This was an effective system but it had limits. The writer of the Book of Hebrews says there is one even more righteous than the High Priest of the line of Aaron. This priest is without sin, a tzadik who is completely Holy unto God. It is he who is our hope, not of entering the earthly Temple (as it will one day exist again) to make offerings, but to enter past the keruvim, past the flaming sword, past the desperate hazard of God’s judgment and the threat of burning eternally in Gehinnom, so that we may rest in God’s mercy in paradise.

What Did I Learn?

I particularly appreciated the word play associated with “the way” as illustrated in Genesis 3:24 and John 14:6, and how that “way” allows us to return from the exile humanity experienced as a result of the failure at Eden. It puts me one step closer to understanding why we all need a “Savior,” and why prayer and repentance to Hashem is “not enough,” a question that has plagued me for quite some time.

But it also brings up a question or rather, it reminds me of an unanswered question I typically ignore except at times like these when I can’t avoid it.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15 (NRSV)

There seems to be a disconnect between this verse and the one that follows, and even between one part of this verse and another.

Yeshua (Jesus) lived a perfectly human and yet a perfectly sinless life for thirty some odd years. I probably can’t avoid an act of disobedience for thirty some odd minutes (or even thirty seconds, sometimes). So Jesus can sympathize with us when we are tempted and tested because he knows the difficulty and suffering of testing as well. Lancaster says it wasn’t just the three trials of the tempter he had to endure (Matthew 4:1-11), but living a human life, he endured human temptations.

So he can sympathize with me when I am tested in the manner of humans, just as he was tested in all human frailty…

…but he did not sin…ever.

unworthySo our high priest can sympathize with our trials, just like the Aaronic High Priests as human beings could sympathize, but an Aaronic High Priest could also sympathize with failure and having sinned because they weren’t perfect…they sinned.

Jesus never sinned, which is what qualifies him to enter into the Heavenly Holy of Holies on our behalf, but how can he possibly sympathize with human failure when he never failed?

Recently, Derek Leman wrote a very good piece on the meaning of grace that transcends the traditional Christian interpretation and adds a great deal of depth to God’s divine kindness and mercy and His undeserved gifts to human beings.

On that level, I can understand why Jesus the High Priest would intercede for us before the Father, and I can imagine that he might feel merciful and even experience pity for we pathetic human beings (I may not be apprehending Derek’s point as much as I need to here), but sympathy or rather empathy because our experience is his experience? I don’t think so. I can’t see how you can understand failure unless you’ve failed. Since Jesus never failed, how can he, or God the Father, the infinite and unknowable Ein Sof, possibly understand us? How can Jesus ever understand me when I fail?

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Family of God

Hebrews 3:1-6 contrasts and compares the respective stations of Moses and Messiah in the household of God in this sermon about our obligations to one another within the body of Messiah.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Nine: The Family of God
Originally presented on March 2, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster launched into this week’s sermon referencing the Bill Gaither Trio chart The Family of God. I don’t think Lancaster is actually a fan of country gospel music (and I know I’m not), but it must have been about the best way he could think of to introduce his topic.

Let me take a more conventional approach:

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

Hebrews 3:1-6 (NASB)

As always, Lancaster managed to unpack these six small verses, revealing a broad spectrum of hidden meaning.

The “family” part is first addressed in the writer of Hebrews’ use of the term “brethren” or “brothers” to address his audience, but that’s only scratching the surface.

Next, Lancaster takes on “Jesus the Apostle.” We don’t usually think of Jesus as an Apostle but this only means “sent out one” which in Hebrew is “Shalach”, a messenger representing the sender such that he possesses the same authority and identity as the sender. If Jesus were the Shalach of God, then Jesus could perform acts not only in the name of God, but acts that would normally only be performed by God.

Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in every way. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

Genesis 24:1-4 (NASB)

The High PriestYou can read the rest of chapter 24 to get the details, but the servant of Abraham was Abraham’s Shalach, his sent out one. It was as if Abraham himself had returned to his homeland, to the city of Nahor, to seek a bride for Isaac.

Also we see Jesus the High Priest which, according to Lancaster, links to Moses. We don’t usually think of Moses as the High Priest. That’s who Aaron was. But before Aaron was inaugurated as Priest, Moses functioned in that role: both Prophet and High Priest.

Try to keep up because all of these details are important and they are interrelated.

He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.

Hebrews 3:2 (NASB)

Now we return to the theme of “family”. The term “house” can have two meanings: “household” such as the family members and the household servants or slaves, and “house,” meaning the physical structure.

Moreover, I tell you that the Lord will build a house for you. When your days are fulfilled that you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up one of your descendants after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father and he shall be My son; and I will not take My lovingkindness away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. But I will settle him in My house and in My kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.

1 Chronicles 17:10-14 (NASB)

This is God addressing David through the prophet Nathan. King David wanted to build God a house, a physical structure, the Temple, but God responded by telling David that He, God, would build a house for David, a household, a Davidic dynasty, and it would be the Son of David, Solomon, who would build God’s house, and God would be a Father to Solomon and Solomon would be a Son to God.

This is just packed with information, and I bet you didn’t think David would be entering the picture here.

Another scripture is necessary to flesh this out.

Not so, with My servant Moses, he is faithful in all My household…

Numbers 12:7 (NASB)

Apprehending most of the rest of the verses I originally quoted from Hebrews 3 above, We see the passage from 1 Chronicles 17 also containing a double meaning of Son of David as Solomon and as Messiah. God not only builds the House of David through Solomon as the Davidic Kingship leading to Messiah, but the Messiah, Son of David will build a household for God…the body of Messiah, for that body is also the Temple of God.

TempleIt’s important to note right here that the household, that is the people living in the structure, don’t actually replace the structure. That would be insane. It would be like a family coming to their house one evening, leveling the entire building, and then trying to go to sleep that night in the hole left behind. So too does the “family of God” built by Messiah not replace the actual physical house of God, and remember, from Lancaster’s point of view, the Epistle to the Hebrews was composed while Herod’s Temple was still standing.

Now, why must Messiah be established as superior to Moses? The standard Christian interpretation is supersessionistic. The grace of Jesus is greater than the Torah of Moses and thus replaces the Torah. That’s what we’ve all been taught. But as Lancaster says, that’s not what the writer is trying to say.

We have yet again another Kal VaChomer or light to heavy argument. It’s as if the writer is saying, if Abraham, Moses, and the Angels are all highly exalted and esteemed in holiness, how much more so is the Messiah highly exalted and esteemed in holiness?

Moses is the faithful servant of the household but the servant isn’t the heir.

Sinai is tall and exceedingly awesome but Messiah is taller than Sinai. How can Messiah in the form of a man be taller than Sinai? Sounds like Midrash, doesn’t it? The answer is that Messiah is standing on summit of Sinai. All that Messiah is, if you will, is built on Sinai, built on the Torah, the culmination of Torah, the perfection of Torah. Jesus is the capstone, the stone placed at the top juncture of the structure of Torah, holding it all together and yet also being the pinnacle.

Jesus doesn’t complete Torah by replacing it but by perfecting it, by living a perfected life through Torah.

Recall earlier sermons that said the intent of this letter was to warn the Jewish audience who were in danger of losing access to the Temple in Jerusalem that they were not to let that distract them from what is greater than the Temple, Messiah. The letter’s audience were also the household, the Temple of God built by Messiah, gathered together, as family, as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters.

Again, the household does not replace the house but what good is there in an empty house? The house needs a household. They go together. And even when the physical Temple doesn’t exist, the family is still together, but the structure, if the household didn’t exist, is just an empty shell.

What Did I Learn?

Lancaster’s sermon reminded me somewhat of what I wrote about recently in Fellowship: What I Learned in Church. Part of who we are in Messiah is united, we’re family, even when we fuss and feud with each other, we defend each other when threatened by those outside the family. That’s what fellowship means. It’s more than having friends at church, it is our family in Messiah, we are brothers and sisters through our faith.

UnityI always thought Christians calling each other “Brother Fred” or “Sister Sally” sounded kind of dumb, but it’s an expression of what Lancaster is trying to say, and what I believe the writer of Hebrews was trying to say to his audience. Family members encourage each other when there are hard times, and the Hellenistic Jews in and around Jerusalem were going through hard times in the years just before the Temple’s destruction.

Lancaster said that being a disciple of the Master was like getting married. You may become a believer because of who the Messiah is, kind of like falling in love, and in this way it’s just like a man and woman getting married. But you don’t just marry the person, you marry their family. Anyone who’s been married for more than a few weeks or a few months (and I’ve been married for almost thirty-two years) knows what I mean. Even if you love your spouse, if they have “problem” family members, you can’t just treat those people like strangers or acquaintances. They’re family whether you want them to be or not.

That’s probably one of the most difficult things about church for some people, loving God and worshiping Jesus at church (the structure) but having to put up with some pretty pesky “family members” in church (the household).

The second of the two greatest commandments of the Master (Matthew 22:39 citing Leviticus 19:18) is to love your neighbor as yourself. According to the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), just about anyone is your “neighbor,” so we are called upon to love everyone.

But there is another love the Master mentions and even commands:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

John 13:34 (NASB)

How did Jesus love his disciples? How did Jesus love the world? By giving his life for them. It is this heightened commandment to love that we are to have for each other as believers, as disciples, and as brothers and sisters.

That’s a tall order for people who sometimes don’t even like each other.

A little over four months ago, I wrote on the topic of apostasy, particularly criticizing those in our little corner of the blogosphere who feel perfectly free to rake anyone over the coals publicly who have dared to leave the faith for any reason whatsoever.

Lancaster mentioned in the closing moments of his sermon that when family leaves us or is taken from us…if we lose a brother or a sister, it’s incredibly painful. If you have a brother or a sister in your actual family, imagine if that person died. How would you feel losing a member of your own family, someone you grew up with, someone you fought with, someone who, in spite of everything, was part of you and you were part of them?

The brideHow would you feel if they got fed up with the family and left, or they became incredibly discouraged by the family and left? Would you be hurt? Would you be angry? Would you be insulted?

I think that’s part of what inspired the tremendous backlash I witnessed a few months ago when a brother left the family. Sure, he had reasons, probably very good reasons. He’s found or rediscovered a family and I’m not writing to debate his decision.

The writer of Hebrews was addressing what Lancaster believes to be a profoundly discouraged group of Jewish believers in Jerusalem who were at severe risk of leaving the faith of Messiah. From their point of view, they probably had good reasons for moving in that direction as well, but the letter’s writer was begging them not to.

“Consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession,” he said. Consider Jesus. Consider who he is and who you are in him. Sure, times are tough. You love the Temple and it is being taken from you by those who do not love our Master. But consider Jesus. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Persevere for the sake of he who is greater than Abraham, greater than Moses, greater than even the Angels through whom the Torah was delivered to the Israelites and ultimately to mankind.

Moses was the faithful servant in God’s House, and Messiah is the faithful Son over God’s House. They both gave their lives for the sake of God’s household, God’s people, God’s family. Though we are not exalted to the level of the Master nor to the level of Moses, yet are we not also asked to give all that we have for the sake of our Father in Heaven and for each other as family? Are we not the Bride of Christ?

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Sundry Times and Divers Manners

Our fourth teaching on the book of Hebrews considers the first two verses of the epistle:

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

How does Yeshua and the message of Messiah stack up against the patriarchs and the prophets?

The thesis statement behind the book of Hebrews with reference to Yalkut Shimoni and Midrash Tanchuma on Isaiah 52:13.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Four: Sundry Times and Divers Manners
Originally presented on January 19, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

After my significant goof up in my review of last week’s session, I’m a little hesitant to write another review, but hopefully, I’ll be more mindful of my notes if not my memory.

Today’s the day. It’s the day Lancaster actually starts delving into the book of Hebrews, well the first couple of verses in the first chapter, anyway. However, there’s a lot to cover in this thirty-five minute sermon. Let’s get going.

The first thing a traditional Christian Bible student should know is that Lancaster thinks the Book of Hebrews reads like Midrash Rabbah, other Talmudic portions, and even the Zohar. That’s because the sermon/letter seems so Jewish. That isn’t going to make a lot of Christians happy because they (we) have been taught some pretty negative things about Talmud and especially about Zohar (most Christians have probably heard of the Talmud but how many teachers and Pastors even breathe the word “Zohar”?).

Lancaster says he feels pretty comfortable with Talmudic literature, at least in English, but he rather feels sorry for the innocent and unsuspecting Christian Bible student who stumbles into Hebrews without that background. The implication is that without familiarity with Rabbinic commentary, most Christians are going to come away from Hebrews with an inaccurate interpretation of what the anonymous author was trying to say.

Lancaster says the experience of an uninitiated Christian facing Talmudic writings encounters the intellectual and perhaps spiritual equivalent of stepping on a rake. I assume he means the “business end” of the rake and not the handle.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

Hebrews 1:1-2 (NASB)

What does this mean?

It’s actually pretty straightforward. In ancient days, God spoke to “the fathers in the prophets”. Who are they? Prophets include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and especially Moses. They also include anyone of the Judges as well as prophets like Samuel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and any of the so-called “minor prophets” who, in Hebrew Bibles, are called the “later prophets.” No prophet of God is “minor.”

We also see prophetic words from God in the writings such as the Psalms and Proverbs, so God spoke to all of the writers of all of the books of what Christians refer to as the “Old Testament” and what Jews call the Tanakh (Torah or Law, Nevu’im or Prophets, and Ketuvim or Writings).

We call all of this put together the “Old Testament,” but for Jews in the Apostolic Era, it was just The Testament or The Scriptures.

Verse one testifies that God inspired all of the writers of all of those writings speaking through them and to them. These were the men of God of the past and God spoke to ALL of them. Thus, what they wrote is ALL the Word of God. God spoke in many diverse ways to the prophets:

He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream.

“Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; With him I speak mouth to mouth…”

Numbers 12:6-8 (NASB)

God spoke through the other prophets in many and different ways but only with Moses did God speak “face-to-face” (lit. mouth-to-mouth). The message of the prophets was to all of Israel and ultimately, to all the world.

However in the last days, God spoke through His Son.

What last days? While the apostles and early disciples may have thought they were living in the last days, they must have been wrong, because almost two-thousand years have passed and the “days” haven’t ended yet.

But were they wrong? They were living in the last days of the Apostolic Era. They were living in the last days of the Holy Temple. They were living in the last days of Jerusalem, the last days before the Jewish people would be exiled from their Land to wander the diaspora for nearly twenty desperate centuries.

Thy Kingdom ComeThe First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television show A Promise of What is to Come produced a number of episodes describing how the coming of the Messianic Kingdom was upon us and that time wasn’t the relevant factor in summoning the Kingdom. Episodes such as Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, and Keys to the Kingdom all speak of this.

Lancaster characterized the imminent coming of the Kingdom as a clock that is stuck at one minute to midnight, sort of how the Doomsday Clock is used to show the imminence of Nuclear War.

The men and women of the Apostolic Era were living in the “end times” no more or less than we. The stage has been set, the actors have taken their places, now all that is left is for the curtain to go up, the house lights to go down, and for the play to begin. However, the audience and the actors haven’t been told exactly when the curtain will rise and to a large degree it is they who will determine the moment, not the director.

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.

Luke 21:32 (NASB)

But this interpretation makes me consider that “this generation” isn’t meant to be taken literally.

…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.

Hebrews 1:2 (NASB)

This speaks more than I could have possibly known before hearing this sermon.

Lancaster invoked my English 101 class which I took the first time I attended university. In an English Composition class, you’re taught to begin a paper with a thesis statement, a declaration of the topic and purpose of the paper, then you spend the rest of the time writing documentation supporting your thesis.

That’s how Hebrews begins.

Lancaster took a moment to explain that the New Testament is NOT just commentary on the Torah, which may come as a surprise to some Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots people who have been taught to focus on the Torah and almost nothing else.

The thesis of the writer of Hebrews is that in ancient days, God spoke through and to the Prophets of old and what they spoke and wrote was and is the Word of God. But in the End Times, God spoke through his Son, Moshiach, and what Moshiach spoke is recorded in the Gospels.

We take all this for granted as Christians in the twenty-first century. After all, we have our Bibles, they include the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the New Testament includes the Gospels, so of course what Jesus said was and is the Word of God, but that was a revolutionary concept in the early 60s CE. The Jewish believers as well as all other Jewish people understood that the Hebrew Scriptures were the Word of God, but could Jesus of Nazareth also speak God’s Word (not to mention his apostles, but we won’t address that today)?

Was/is Jesus greater than the Prophets? The answer is of course, “yes,” but what did the original readers of Hebrews believe? Was Jesus greater and better than angels (see Hebrews 1:4)?

The writer of Hebrews had to establish this as his thesis and then spend the rest of the sermon/letter defending and supporting that thesis.

Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.

Isaiah 52:13 (NASB)

Delitzsch BibleThis is the beginning of the Song of the Exalted Servant. Traditional, normative Judaism considers the Exalted or Suffering Servant to be the people and nation of Israel, while Christians believe it is Messiah, it’s Jesus.

Lancaster began to establish that the Servant must be Messiah based on a variety of Jewish sources, such as Targum Jonathan and too many others for me to write down and thus record here. He mentioned again that the Zohar is one of those sources, but it should be noted that most if not all of the supportive Jewish writings were authored well after the Apostolic Era.

Lancaster wants to show his audience that his interpretation is correct but that it must be understood and supported by Jewish sources. The question, and it’s an important one, is if the audience of the sermon/letter to the Hebrews would have understood this document through the Jewish documentation and commentary they had access to in or around the year 62 CE.

The most reliable estimates regarding the Zohar say it was written in about the 12th century and the Talmud wasn’t authored for centuries after the apostles died. We can accept some of Lancaster’s argument if we believe the information later recorded in Rabbinic writings already existed, probably in oral form, during Apostolic days. But for many Christians, that’s quite a leap.

What Lancaster is trying to establish is that the writer of Hebrews was declaring, and again, this would be controversial and even revolutionary in the mid-first century, that Yeshua of Nazareth was not only equal to the Prophets and Judges and even Angels, but that he was superior to them all as Messiah and as the Son of God. The audience of Hebrews was to understand that the words of Jesus were indeed also the Word of God, which Christians accept today without question but the original readers of Hebrews still needed to comprehend.

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…

Hebrews 1:3 (NASB)

For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.

Hebrews 3:3 (NASB)

Jesus is worthy. He sits at the right hand of the Father. He is the radiance of God’s glory, an exact representation of God’s nature. Messiah upholds all things by his word, which is the Word of God because Messiah is greater, more glorious, more worthy than any of the prophets, including Moses and even more so than the Angels.

Now here’s the important part for today.

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.

Hebrews 2:1 (NASB)

Read the entire first chapter of Hebrews and then read the first verse of the second chapter. What were the readers of this sermon/letter (and what are we) supposed to pay much closer attention to?” The Word of God as spoken by Messiah. Why? So they wouldn’t drift away.

life_of_pi_by_megatruh-d5noigdRemember, that according to previous sermons, the writer of the Book of Hebrews was deeply concerned that his audience, because they were denied access to the Temple in Jerusalem, were tempted to “drift away” from their faith in Messiah, all for love of and devotion to Temple worship.

Christians believe that Hebrews was a warning to Jews not to abandon Jesus and “backslide” into Jewish practices including the Temple sacrifices, but according to Lancaster, it was a warning to not forget priorities.

Lancaster used a number of metaphors to get his point across but I’ll choose just one. How many couples do you know have gotten a divorce? Maybe you are divorced. Maybe you have friends who are, or maybe your parents are.

Sometimes, when describing the process that lead up to divorcing, men and women will say that they drifted away from each other over time. This rather contradicts a sudden trauma such as being abruptly denied access to Temple worship and suggests a gradual cooling of faith.

Faith and devotion to the Master are there, but for a variety of reasons, they can begin to become less important over weeks, months, and even years. Christians are taught in Church that only one thing matters: Jesus. It’s pretty easy to lock onto Jesus and not let go because he is all anyone ever talks about.

But the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movement are sometimes so devoted to Torah, to Talmud, to Shabbat, to a thousand other things, that Jesus gets lost in the shuffle. I think that’s why some Gentile Messianic believers convert to normative Judaism, usually Orthodox, because the things of Judaism become more attractive and they slowly drift away from Yeshua.

Hebrew Roots people accuse Messianic Jewish adherents of promoting this kind of apostasy all the time, but here we have D. Thomas Lancaster, no small voice in the realm of Messianic Jewish teachings and writings, offering the same cautionary tale based on the warning of whoever wrote the Book of Hebrews.

What Did I Learn?

I’ve been bending my brain around what Lancaster has been teaching and filtering it through some of the comments of people who have been reading my reviews.

broken-crossCould the Book of Hebrews been written after the Temple’s destruction and the writer was trying to encourage his Jewish readers that the quintessential Temple continued to exist in Heaven with Messiah as its Kohen Gadol?

Regardless of differences in interpretation, the main point of Lancaster’s sermon was what hit home the most, especially in the face of recent failures and my continued struggle with the rigidity of certain Christians and their commentaries.

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

Hebrews 2:1-3 (NASB)

We must…I must pay attention to what I have heard so that I do not drift way from it, for if the Word spoken by angels at Sinai to Moses, the Torah, proved unalterable, how can I escape if I neglect so great a salvation as the Word uttered by the Master?

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Fire on the Mountain

On the third day when it was morning, there was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and the sound of the shofar was very powerful, and the entire people that was in the camp shuddered. Moses brought the people forth from the camp toward God, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was smoking because HASHEM had descended upon it in the fire; its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain shuddered exceedingly. The sound of the shofar grew continually much stronger; Moses would speak and God would respond to him with a voice.

Exodus 19:16-19 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Sermon One: Fire on the Mountain
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

I’ve wanted to review D. Thomas Lancaster’s lecture series on Hebrews for a while now, and since I have just finished my reviews of the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come, I thought Hebrews, a particularly troublesome epistle for me, would be a worthy project.

Two interesting things happened to encourage me to start this project. The first was the sermon at church Sunday before last. The guest speaker (Pastor is out of town for a few weeks) taught on Hebrews 1:1-3. I took copious notes and disagreed with about half of what the person was saying. I almost wrote a blog post about it, but decided that I didn’t need to blog about every single experience I have, and certainly not about every single sermon I have issues with.

The next interesting thing was going over last week’s Torah reading, which was Torah Portion Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23), a part of which I quoted from above because it factors in to Lancaster’s first lesson on Hebrews.

Lancaster begins his first sermon, “Fire on the Mountain” in the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series by announcing that the traditional Torah readings of the Book of Genesis had just ended (as he made the recording) and the Torah reading cycle was entering the Book of Exodus. Lancaster then briefly summarized the first twenty chapters or so of Exodus for his congregation and I began to think I’d clicked on the wrong audio file in attempting to access the start of his Hebrews sermons.

But there’s a connection between Exodus and Hebrews.

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

Hebrews 12:18-24 (NASB)

Lancaster takes his audience through a short and somewhat loose history of the introduction of the Epistle to the Hebrews and its canonization. The Eastern Church adopted the anonymously written letter almost immediately upon receiving it, but the Western (Roman) Church took its sweet time, not canonizing the epistle until the Fourth Century…three hundred years after it arrived on the scene.

Mount SinaiThe letter was so “Jewish,” so “Rabbinic” that a lot of people didn’t know what to make of it. It came with the title “To the Hebrews,” but what does that mean exactly? It could have been added later and may only reflect the opinion of some translator or interpreter as to the intended audience.

Lancaster then compared his experience with Hebrews to his experience with Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, since both Galatians and Hebrews are typically used by the Church as “proof texts” that the Law is dead and has been replaced by grace. In other words, those two letters are the biggest guns in the traditional Church arsenal used to shoot down Judaism and replace it with Christianity.

To illustrate this, Lancaster described some of his personal history, especially related to Galatians, starting with being a “Pastor’s kid” attending Sunday school classes taught by his oldest brother David. Lancaster thought he knew Galatians pretty well growing up, but about twenty years ago, when attending a congregation that he called back then “the Messianic Jewish heresy,” he was prompted to re-read Galatians and all of his beliefs about what Paul was saying in that letter suddenly weren’t quite so clear.

I won’t go through the entire story, which culminated with yet another sermon series of Lancaster’s that eventually became the book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, but twenty years ago, so disturbed by how the “Messianic Jewish heresy” was describing the continuance of Torah rather than its abrupt death at the hands of Paul, Lancaster called his brother David to get some guidance. Guidance arrived but not in the form Lancaster was expecting. Lancaster quotes his brother as saying about the continuation of the authority of Torah:

Maybe it’s not what we always teach, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

But what’s all that got to do with the Book of Hebrews?

Lancaster set the stage for the further study of the epistle (or any Biblical document, really), but that’s not the emphasis of this thirty minute teaching. The emphasis in the first sermon was on the Kal Va-chomer argument or a comparison of two items from the “lighter” or somewhat less significant, to the “heavier” or more significant.

Jesus used this particular method on more than one occasion:

Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (emph. mine)

Matthew 7:9-11 (NASB)

Galatians by D.T. LancasterLancaster gave a few other examples, both from the Gospel and Talmud of such an argument, including the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8), which only implies the Kal Va-chomer argument (and seeing that the argument can be implicit rather than explicit is important because a reading of Hebrews 12:18-24 also indicates the Kal Va-chomer argument is somewhat implicit), but the point is that such an argument is not alien to Judaism in general and the teachings of the Master (and apostles) in particular.

Notice something important, though. Lancaster says that in the latter situation in the above example, the generosity of our (good and perfect) Father in heaven, when compared to the earlier situation, generosity of earthly (evil) fathers, the latter does not undo the former. That is, the fact that God is good, perfect, and generous does not invalidate, replace, or cancel the generosity or the status of our human fathers.

Another point to pay attention to is that the first situation, the generosity of imperfect but giving earthly fathers, must be true and have value in order for the second situation, the generosity of the good and perfect Father in Heaven, to be even more true.

Now let’s revisit Hebrews 12:18-24 which compares Mount Sinai and the Torah to Mount Zion and the Messiah. Paraphrasing, and these are my words trying to capture Lancaster’s message:

If you thought it was incredible, awesome, terrifying, and the greatest revelation of God to humanity when God appeared to the ancient Israelites and gave them the Torah at Sinai, how much more so will it be incredible, awesome, terrifying, and an even greater revelation of God to humanity when you confront Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and His myriads of angels?

But the latter doesn’t invalidate the authority, truth, and value of the former, it is just bigger, badder, has more authority, is more true, and has more value.

If the latter invalidated the former, the Kal Va-chomer argument would fall apart and neither situation could be true.

One verse later, the anonymous writer of the letter to the Hebrews uses the same method again:

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.

Hebrews 12:25 (NASB)

If those who received the Torah at Sinai couldn’t escape the consequences of ignoring God, how much less will you escape the consequences of “Him who warns from heaven.”

Lancaster offered other examples of these arguments as presented by Jesus, but I think you get the point. Lancaster is saying that, like the traditional, majority Christian interpretation of Galatians, we have it all wrong about how we understand Hebrews. It took a rather pointed and shocking revelation from his brother David for Lancaster to decide to re-evaluate Galatians from a fresh perspective, setting aside Christian tradition, and interpreting the letter from its original, first century Jewish viewpoint.

Setting aside the traditional Christian interpretation and taking a fresh look at old epistles is one point that Mark Nanos makes about the Galatians letter in his book The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context. This is the point that Lancaster is making about how we should treat the book of Hebrews, too. It’s the focus of this lecture series, which I imagine will actually start at Chapter 1, verse 1 in the next recording. I’m looking forward to it.

What Did I Learn?

d_thomas_lancasterI learned to shift my perspective when looking at the book of Hebrews, at least Hebrews 12:18-25. As I mentioned above, Hebrews has been a big problem for me. I had been so exposed to the traditional Christian interpretation of this letter, that I couldn’t see any way around its anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism, anti-Torah message, which stood in such opposition to everything else I understand in the Bible. Now Lancaster has given me a basic tool with which to shift that understanding, a new lens with which to look at the text.

The website of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship, the congregation where Lancaster teaches, contains all of the audio recordings of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series (thirty-seven as I write this). Believe it or not, I only listed the highlights of Lancaster’s first sermon. You can listen to “Fire on the Mountain” and the other recordings of his Hebrews teachings on that page at your convenience.

I’ll review the second sermon, “A Word of Exhortation” next week.