Tag Archives: D Thomas Lancaster

Listening for the Spirit Within Us

Hashem descended in a cloud and spoke to him, and He increased some of the spirit that was upon him and gave it to the seventy men, the elders; when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but did not do so again.

Two men remained behind in the camp, the name of one was Eldad and the name of the second was Medad, and the spirit rested upon them; they had been among the recorded ones, but they had not gone out to the Tent, and they prophesied in the camp.

Numbers 11:25-26 (Stone Edition Chumash)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)

As at least some of you may know, the first quote is from Torah Portion Beha’alotcha, which was read in synagogues all over the world last Shabbos.

The second quoted scripture is the famous Pentecost event when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit of God and began speaking in many different languages, languages they did not normally know.

As Christians, we are taught that anyone who comes to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) immediately receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit will guide us in all things. Yeshua said something to this effect.

These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

John 14:25-27

However, in each and every scripture I’ve quoted, the objects of receiving the Spirit and the audience of Yeshua’s words are Jews. So far, all we know (if we knew nothing else) is that Jews receive the Holy Spirit under certain circumstances, perhaps like the seventy elders and the Apostles, to prepare a specialized population for a highly specific set of duties.

But then there’s this:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

Acts 10:44-48

cornelius
Peter and Cornelius

Obviously the Roman (Gentile) Centurion Cornelius and all those other Gentiles in his household received the Holy Spirit. Peter and the Jews who were with him were direct witnesses to the event and it was something that was obviously apparent to them in a physical manifestation.

“These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

Acts 11:12-18

Peter reported all this to the “apostles and the brethren” in Jerusalem, and after hearing his testimony, they glorified God saying “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

This was even confirmed later by Peter at the legal proceeding held by James and the Jerusalem Council for formally establishing the status of Gentiles in Messianic Jewish community:

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.”

Acts 15:7-9

Clearly, God intended for non-Jews to enter into the community of faith and be saved in a manner identical to the Jews, receiving the Holy Spirit, just as the Jewish believers did.

More than that, it was foretold long before these events that many nations would turn to the God of Israel:

Many nations shall become a people unto Me, but I will dwell among you — then you will realize that Hashem, Master of Legions, has sent me to you.

Zechariah 2:15 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Every Knee Shall Bow
Photo credit: art.jkirkrichards.com

The Tanakh is replete with prophesies regarding the nations turning to God at the dawning of the Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom Yeshua’s advent inaugurated into our world, but I’ll only quote this one as it was part of last week’s Haftarah portion.

It seems my last blog post caused a disturbance among some of my non-Jewish readers relative to the uncertainty of our status in modern Messianic Jewish community. It was never my intension to upset or disturb anyone. Actually, quite the opposite.

I wanted to emphasize that even though, as we saw in the passage I quoted from Zechariah, God will dwell among Israel, even as He rules the entire world, Gentile lives matter, too. We’re not just an afterthought in God’s redemptive plan. We are not just God’s left-handed, red-headed step-children, the ones you hide in the closet when company comes over. We have a very specific purpose in the Kingdom.

But it’s sometimes easy to get the idea that Gentiles are indeed an afterthought given all the emphasis on Jews and Judaism on Messianic Jewish websites and blogs, and in such publications, and sermons.

However, I also brought up some uncomfortable ideas regarding our existence in my previous article: we don’t have a very exact roadmap regarding mitzvot or lifestyle, at least nothing as detailed as do the Jewish people.

I decided to focus on the Holy Spirit in today’s “morning mediation” for a few reasons:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you, and I will make it so that you will follow my decrees and guard my ordinances and fulfill them.

Ezekiel 36: 26-27 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

This is part of the New Covenant promises Hashem made to Israel, the giving of the Holy Spirit, which we saw fulfilled in Acts 2 when it was given to the Jewish Apostles, and in Acts 10 when Peter witnessed it being given to the faithful Gentiles in the household of Cornelius.

But it’s interesting that a promise made exclusively to Israel somehow was transmitted to those Gentiles who came to faith in Yeshua as the foretold Messiah.

Actually, we have another giving of the Spirit that needs to be included.

Then Yeshua came from the Galil toward the Yarden to Yochanan, to be immersed by him. But Yochanan tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be immersed by you, and yet you come to me?” Yeshua answered and said to him, “Permit me, for so it is appropriate for both of us to fulfill the entire tzedakah,” so he permitted him. When Yeshua was immersed, he quickly came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the spirit of God descending in the likeness of a dove, and it rested upon him.

Matthew 3:13-16 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

hebrews_letterPart of what I learned in listening to D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermons on the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews is that Yeshua, as the arbiter of the New Covenant, came, in part, to deliver “samples” of the New Covenant blessings to Israel, and apparently through them, to the Gentiles. This was to be evidence that God will indeed keep His promises to Israel (and somehow some of those promises also apply to the nations) at the appropriate time.

We see the New Covenant promise of the giving of the Holy Spirit in Ezekiel 36, we see Yeshua receiving the Spirit in Matthew 3, the Apostles receive the Spirit in Acts 2, and some faithful Gentiles receive it in front of Jewish eyewitnesses in Acts 10.

This should be pretty encouraging to some of the people who were dismayed at the content and discussion regarding my chopped liver blog post.

There’s just one problem:

The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 8:34-39 (NASB)

The Ethiopian eunuch (a subject worthy of his own study), who was (in my opinion) most likely a Jew, did not receive the Holy Spirit, or at least Luke didn’t record it. But why, if he received the Spirit, would Luke have omitted this important point? If it was just assumed by Luke, then why did he include that the eunuch was baptized, which also could have been assumed?

Furthermore:

It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.

Acts 19:1-6

Apparently it’s possible to come to faith in Yeshua, to receive a water baptism, but not to receive the Holy Spirit.

tongues of fireI’m just shooting in the dark at this point, but as a believer for many years, while I can recall the moment I came to faith, no specific physical event occurred indicating that I had received the Holy Spirit. I was baptized in the Boise River along with my wife and children in August of 1999, but nothing like the Acts 2 or Acts 10 events occurred (although Acts 10 does not describe what Peter witnessed that told him Cornelius and his household had received the Spirit except that they spoke in tongues  and praised God).

Is it possible in the community of faith for some of us to possess the indwelling of the Spirit of God and others to not possess it? Further, with no physical evidence of the Spirit resting upon us as described in the multiple Bible quotes I’ve offered, how can we say the Spirit is on us or in us at all? Did you speak in tongues and utter prophesies? I didn’t.

I know that there’s a general consensus in Evangelical circles that the “age of miracles” ended when Christian Biblical canon was closed, but there are all sorts of anecdotal stories other Christians tell of spiritual manifestations and even miracles that happen all around us (though they seldom if ever make it into mainstream news reports).

I don’t have a definitive answer to all this. Maybe someone out there does. I have to take it on faith that I do possess the Holy Spirit, only because Christian tradition says I must if I’m a believer.

On the other hand:

Not everyone who says to me, “My master! My master!” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but rather the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. It will be that on that day many will say to me, “My master, My master, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name do many wonders?” Then I will answer them, saying, “I have never known you. Depart from me workers of evil!”

Matthew 7:21-23 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

That’s rather sobering.

Think about it. There’s a class of believers who are capable of performing actual supernatural acts, apparently in the name of Yeshua, and yet, the Master does not know them and even calls them “workers of evil”.

How about this?

But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?”

Acts 19:13-15 (NASB)

I’m not sure this is an example of what Yeshua was talking about, but just paying the Master lip service, so to speak, doesn’t seem to be enough to get you “into the club,” as it were.

So what do we do as faithful Yeshua-followers?

Yeshua said to him, “Love HaShem your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your knowledge.” This is the greatest and the first mitzvah. But the second is similar to it: “Love your fellow as yourself.” The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two mitzvot.

Matthew 22:37-40 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

I know Yeshua was speaking to a Jewish audience, but I think that it is appropriate to consider this a commandment that also applies to us, that is, we non-Jews in Messiah. Why shouldn’t we also love God with all of our resources and love other human beings as we love ourselves? It would seem this “Torah” is one that also forms the core of our existence as disciples of the Master and worshipers of Israel’s God.

I still feel like I’ve opened a can of worms I can’t seem to close again. With all of this, what are we supposed to do next, particularly if we, in some way, exist either directly or tangentially in Jewish community?

That might take a long time to find out. Certainly an inventory of each and every instruction Paul gave in his epistles to the Gentile disciples, as viewed from a Paul Within Judaism perspective, would be in order.

109
Messiah Journal 109

Actually, back in February 2012, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) published an article written by Toby Janicki in Messiah Journal issue 109 called The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses. Unsatisfied with my original review which I wrote at the time, I wrote another one over a year later (which was nearly two years ago now).

It doesn’t answer the conundrum regarding the Holy Spirit or how some people could sincerely believe they were serving Yeshua and yet be so horribly wrong, but as far as getting some sort of handle of who Gentiles are supposed to be in what is essentially, a Jewish religious form, it might be a good place to start, at least for those of you who are experiencing a crisis of community.

The rest will have to come along by the by.

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The Meaning of Purim for the Christian Church

I posted this one last year and I think the message needs to be repeated. Purim definitely has applications to the Christian Church. If only they would listen.

Morning Meditations

Super girlI haven’t thought much about Purim in awhile. It’s not something we observe in our home and I tend to think of Purim as being primarily for children, dressing in costume, playing games, telling jokes, that sort of thing. Back in the day, the congregation I used to attend observed Purim with a children’s play, which often took on some sort of Star Wars or other fantasy theme. But those days are gone, my children are grown, and my grandson isn’t even aware of Purim.

I received an audio CD from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) a number of days ago, but I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until I was weeding the backyard over the weekend. It’s interesting trying to pull weeds out of muddy plant beds, listening to D. Thomas Lancaster lecture about Purim to the congregation at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship, and periodically grab my pen and notebook to…

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Dealing with the Heresy Hunters

Saul understood the disciples of Yeshua as a dangerous sect of Judaism that needed to be silenced before it spread any further. In Saul’s day Judaism contained a variety of sectarian movements. The word “sect” translates the Greek word “hairesis.” It is the same word for “choice,” or “opinion.” Over time, as Christianity battled against the deviant hairesis of Gnosticism, the meaning of the word evolved into the new concept of “heresy.” In the days of the apostles, however, the word primarily referred to a faction of thought and practice within a larger group. For example, the book of Acts refers to the “sect of the Sadducees” (Acts 5:17) and the “sect of the Pharisees” (Acts 15:5), which was “the strictest sect of [the Jews’] religion” (Acts 26:5 NASB). It also refers to the disciples of Yeshua as the “sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).

The first-century Jewish historian Josephus used the word hairesis to describe “schools of thought” within the Jewish people: Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes. In Josephus’ writings the word hairesis only means a faction within the broader religion of Judaism. It does not imply heresy.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
from “Damascus Road Encounter,” pp.15-16
Messiah Magazine issue 8, Winter 2015/5775

I find I can’t read Luke’s “Acts of the Apostles” anymore without thinking about the church I used to attend and the reasons I left. The head Pastor during the two years I attended, was working his way through the Book of Acts in his sermon series, preaching on it verse by verse.

During the first year I was at this church, I was studying Lancaster’s Torah Club Volume 6: “Chronicles of the Apostles,” which is a detailed analysis of Acts from a Messianic Jewish point of view (based on the theology and doctrine espoused by First Fruits of Zion). Between Pastor’s weekly sermons and my Torah Club studies, I became very familiar with Acts, perhaps more so than any other single book in the Bible. So now, when I read Acts, I think both of Pastor’s sermons and of Lancaster’s teachings.

FFOZ’s Messiah Magazine is a less “scholarly” publication compared to Messiah Journal and is written, in my opinion, for people with a more traditional Christian mindset who are interested in what I call “Messianic Judaism 101.”

That’s not a bad thing. When encountering Messianic Judaism for the first time, it’s helpful to have an elementary point of entry that speaks to someone not familiar with that perspective. I guess I’ve been studying too long to be challenged by entry-level material.

But I found myself wishing this (Sunday) morning that I could share Lancaster’s article with the folks at the Sunday School class I used to attend. It’s a vain hope. For two years, I tried to make a positive impression on the class regarding Messianic Jewish thought and perspective on the Bible, and while some people found some of what I said compelling, ultimately, for two years, I was spinning my wheels. Paradigms are not easily shifted, and sometimes they are so cemented into place, that it becomes all but impossible (at least for human beings) to shift them perceptibly. Any doctrine outside of what is taught by the local church is considered heresy.

Which brings me to the quote from Lancaster’s article.

We experience now, as did the Jewish people in the days of Saul/Paul, a number of different “sects,” both within Christianity and Judaism. If we take all this within the context of the original meaning of the word “hairesis,” then we can consider the different denominations of Christianity and the different branches of Judaism as different factions, or schools of thought and practice, within their broader respective religions.

But where does that leave modern Messianic Judaism and her (somewhat) parallel sister movement Hebrew Roots? Can we consider them two different “sects,” and valid “schools of thought and practice” within a larger religious context?

I’ve been following a number of different blogs over the past week or so and monitoring a series of “differences of opinion” (to put it mildly in some cases) that would seem to belie that thought.

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

For instance, on Derek Leman’s Messianic Jewish Musings, there is a lively debate between Messianic Jews (and Gentiles) and an Orthodox Jewish person about the validity of Christianity as a religion, including Messianic Judaism, which this fellow (Hi, Gene) believes to be a subset of Christianity rather than a “school of thought” within Judaism.

Pete Rambo issued a rather provocative challenge on his blog by “offering a $10,000 reward to the person who can prove unequivocally, from Scripture alone, that God changed the Sabbath day from Saturday, the seventh day, to Sunday the first day.” Naturally, a “spirited debate” ensued, although there only seems to be one person attempting to “collect the reward.”

And then, on Peter Vest’s blog, he proposes the interesting idea that the later Rabbis of the Talmud rejected what Peter believes was the “One Law” teachings of the Second Temple era Rabbis. There’s no particular argument going on in the comments section of that blog (yet), but it nevertheless presents another variant opinion on what the Bible teaches us about Jewish and Gentile interactions in the first-century Jewish “stream of thought” of “the Way.”

I must say that adherents to these various “sects,” in these blog discussions, can express quite a bit of “passion” in defending their particular opinions, but sometimes it (seemingly) goes beyond that.

I haven’t watched the YouTube video yet (and I probably never will), but according to Peter on his blog, a couple of gentlemen in some sort of One Law radio talk show outright said that Peter was a “liar” relative to his statements about Judaism and the validity of the Oral Torah.

Now I can’t state strongly enough that I haven’t watched the video and so I don’t directly know what was or wasn’t said. I do know that it’s not unheard of to misinterpret someone’s opinion of you, especially if that opinion is at all critical. I don’t know what the people Peter mentions said or didn’t say, so what I’m writing here isn’t a matter of taking sides or calling anyone out.

However, if we, for the moment, accept Peter’s allegations at face value, then we have encountered a problem. All of us in our various “sects” of Christianity, Judaism, or whatever, actually have the same core goal: drawing nearer to God. However, each of us within our own specific “streams of thought” imagine the details of just how to accomplish that task rather differently. And yet, in spite of the fact that we know there have been multiple differing “streams of thought and practice” about the Bible and God for well over two-thousand years, significantly predating the existence of anything called “Christianity,” we still insist that whatever religious stream in which we find ourselves is the only one with “the truth.”

Everyone else is wrong and we have a duty and obligation to go online and, by golly, prove it.

It is one thing to disagree with someone else, to believe their particular interpretation of the Bible is in error, that the person is (Heaven forbid) wrong, mislead, or even deluded. It’s another thing entirely to believe another person’s difference of opinion indicates that the individual is a willful liar. I hope that’s not what’s going on here, because it would be a sad commentary on two people who are professed disciples of Yeshua (Jesus),  but as I said, I don’t really know.

And that brings us back to Lancaster’s article and “Saul, the Heresy Hunter” (I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek).

Christian teaching emphasizes the story of the conversion of Saul the Jew, a persecutor of the early church, into Paul the Christian, as a pattern for Jewish believers to follow. Just as Saul renounced Judaism and even changed his name to Paul, so too, Jewish believers should renounce their old allegiances and embrace their new identity in Christ. A careful reading of the story of Saul’s Damascus road encounter, however, does not indicate a conversion from Judaism to Christianity, nor does it indicate a change in name from Saul to Paul.

-Lancaster, p.15

You’ll have to read Lancaster’s full article (only four pages long) to see how he defends his opinion (successfully from my point of view), but it indicates a couple of things. First, that Saul was wrong about his persecution of the Jewish members of “the Way,” and that he was rather dramatically forced to face his mistakes by an encounter with the Master of that movement, Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth. Second, we discover that (in my opinion and Lancaster’s) Christian interpretive tradition is wrong about what happened to Saul, what sort of “conversion” he underwent, and why he had two names.

Saul did undergo a radical transformation of the heart, soul, and mind. One might say that he experienced a spiritual conversion — something the Master called being “born again.” His life would never be the same. Compared with the “surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua,” Saul counted all his prestigious heritage and achievements in Judaism as mere rubbish (Philippians 3:8 NASB). Yet that change in priority did not indicate a change in religious affiliation. Saul encountered the Messiah on the way to Damascus, but he did not abandon his Jewish identity or his loyalty to the Torah, the Jewish people, or Jewish practice.

-ibid, p.18

The Jewish PaulIf I said something like that in at least some churches, I would likely encounter strong and passionate counter arguments that anything “Jewish” did not survive in Paul after his Acts 9 encounter with Jesus. Nevertheless, that’s how I (and Lancaster, and many others) read the life of Paul in the Apostolic Scriptures.

So as we’ve seen, there have been multiple sects of Judaism that predated the earthly ministry of Jesus by quite a bit, and there have been multiple sects of Christianity from pretty much the point when the term was first used.

What do we do about that, especially in the volatile environment of the religious blogosphere?

View people you are likely to quarrel with as your partners in personal growth. They are likely to make you more aware of your vulnerabilities, limitations, and mistakes. Don’t let this get you down. Rather, let it serve as your coach. You now have more awareness of what you need to strengthen, fix, and keep on developing.

(from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book: Harmony with Others, p.36, http://www.artscroll.com)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from Daily Lift #236: “My Partner in Personal Growth”
Aish.com

If you’re religious in any sense of the word (I know that some Christians say their faith is a “relationship, not a religion” but go with me on this one) then other people are going to disagree with you. Get used to it. If you are going to discuss your religious beliefs on a blog and allow others to comment on your blog, people will comment and some will disagree with you. Others will write their own blog posts disagreeing with you, sometimes in the most caustic and “unChristian” like manner.

If we are to believe what Rabbi Pliskin says, all of our opponents are our partners in personal growth. Without them, we might never discover weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and limitations in our own character as well as our knowledge. They force us to constantly stretch ourselves so that we will be more aware of our strengths and deficits tomorrow than we are today. As one motivational statement I’ve seen at my gym says, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 (NASB)

It seems that Rav Shaul (otherwise known as Paul the Apostle) and Rabbi Pliskin agree on something.

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.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Outside the Camp

Our religion involves a lot of ritual foods, including the ceremony that Christians refer to as the Eucharist, but the writer of the book of Hebrews warns his readers to steer away from sacramental interpretations of ceremonial foods. This discussion of Hebrews 13:9-14 brings the central conflict behind the epistle into sharp focus.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Forty-five: Outside the Camp
Originally presented on March 8, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Hebrews 13:9-14 (NASB)

I have no idea what happened to sermon forty-four. It’s not in the list at the Beth Immanuel website. We seem to be missing the previous week’s sermon which probably covered Hebrews 13:1-8. I guess we’ll have to live without it.

But Lancaster says something compelling about today’s sermon. He says that the whole summation of the entire epistle can be found in these verses. Really?

However, we have to be willing to accept some speculation on his part about the meaning of the “varied and strange teachings”. There’s no way to know for sure what they really were, but Lancaster has a theory. The thinks that these strange teachings were some odd, mystical interpretation about the meaning of the sacrifices, particularly the peace and sin offerings, which are the only ones that were eaten.

Lancaster guesses that some teachings were being circulated, probably by the Sadducees who were in control of the Temple, stating that unless the priest actually eats of the sacrificial portion in the presence of the person making the offering, the offering was ineffective. Or unless the sin offering were completely burned, the sins were not forgiven.

Again, this is pure guesswork on Lancaster’s part, but I thought it sounded sort of like the following:

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.”

Matthew 23:16-22

PriestsSwearing by the Temple vs. swearing by the gold in the Temple; yeah, that sounds like a strange and diverse teaching, too. Lancaster believes the writer of the Hebrews letter was saying that the priesthood was circulating strange teachings about the animal sacrifices indicating they meant far more than they actually did. This was an attempt to pile on more pressure, since the readers of the letter, the Greek-speaking believing Jews, had been exiled from the Temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices. If these Jews thought that not offering sacrifices meant, on some mystic level, that they were exiled from God, they might actually abandon faith in Messiah for the sake of offering korban.

Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.

Hebrews 13:9

But God’s grace and favor doesn’t come from “mystic food”, it comes from faith.

Lancaster offered the example of the Catholic Church from the Middle Ages to the present. Even in the present-day Catholic Church, the Church can refuse to offer the sacrament of the eucharist, Holy Communion, to a Catholic who has gone against church teaching, perhaps by supporting abortion rights for example. It is a terrible shame to be excommunicated and many Catholics are successfully manipulated by the pressure to at least publicly change their beliefs so they can regain access to Communion.

This is sort of how Lancaster sees what the Jewish letter readers were going through.

Except, like the eucharist, the sacrifices are not “magic food”. Simply offering and eating doesn’t impart or remove God’s grace and blessing apart from the believer’s faith and devotion to God. Verse 9 says the heart is strengthened by grace, not food. It also says that if eating the “magic food” was so effective, how come the corrupt priesthood of Sadducees was still so wicked?

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.

Hebrews 13:10

This verse could be one of the proof texts used by the early Catholic Church to justify the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion as a sacrament that replaced the Temple sacrifices (and no doubt more than a few Protestants also believe this). The people who have no right to eat of the sacrament, in this scenario, are the Jews, unless they convert to Christianity.

The Death of the MasterLancaster’s take is different from the traditional Christian interpretation, and follows along with what he’s taught about the rest of the epistle. He’s saying that the earthly Temple is a reflection of the Heavenly Temple, and that the Heavenly altar has “food” that those who serve in the tabernacle, that is, the earthly priesthood, have no right to eat, not because they’re priests or Jews, but because of their wicked hearts and actions.

The next several verses metaphorically compare the national sin offering to the Messiah’s death.

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. herefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.

Hebrews 13:11-13

The blood of the sin offering was to be taken outside the camp which in those days was outside the walls of Jerusalem. This is where the Master was executed, outside the city walls. The letter writer says that we too should be willing to share in the Master’s reproach, for just like he was, they also have been rejected from the larger community, like lepers, ostracized, seemingly abandoned. But if they are worthy of the Messiah, then they would be willing to suffer, even to the death, for the sake of their faith and the promise of the Messianic Age to come.

What Did I Learn?

I would have missed most of those details, but by now, I’ve stopped reading the parts of Hebrews not covered by the sermons I’ve heard and I’ve been willing to listen to Lancaster’s explanation first. That’s probably a fault of mine, and in retrospect, I should have read ahead to see if what I’ve learned so far could help me in anticipating what comes next.

Be that as it may, I wouldn’t have gotten the comparison of “magic” sacrificial food to the eucharist and the artificial manufacture of a sacramental system created to replace the Temple practices. The sacrament of Holy Communion also requires a priesthood, so you can see how the earliest foundations of the Church were predicated on replacement theology or supersessionism. And even though the Protestant church doesn’t emphasize the necessity of frequent taking of the eucharist, they haven’t done away with it either, accepting the fundamental underpinning the Catholics established, that the wine and the wafer mean something, and that a Christian cannot be complete without accepting Communion.

Lancaster made another point, a big one, that really spoke to me. He compared Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles to those put “outside the camp”. He compared us to the readers of the Hebrews epistle. Those of us who identify with the Messianic Movement are largely to completely rejected by both mainstream religious Judaism and mainstream Christianity in all its denominations.

Judaism not only rejects those Jews who accept the revelation of Yeshua as Messiah, but absolutely rejects the Gentiles who have come alongside Israel through faith in Messiah. Of course this is also true of the Church. I know what it’s like to maintain a Messianic theological and doctrinal framework within a local church environment. Everyone was nice and friendly and accepting of me but not of most of what I had to say. And for the Messianic Jew, the Church has no problems with that person as long as they convert to Christianity and surrender any form of Jewish practice beyond a token Passover seder or maybe building the occasional sukkah.

Lancaster states that Messianic Judaism is based on a completely different set of theological assumptions than Christianity. But it’s a set of foundations that he believes are correct, and in fact, represent a major “course correction” in the deviated trajectory Christianity has charted over the past nearly two-thousand years.

If the foundation of Christianity is “out of whack,” the only recourse is to tear down the structure and rebuild it from the ground up. That’s pretty radical talk, and I can’t imagine too many Christians who would quietly accept such words.

Lancaster was quick to point out that he feels brotherhood with all Christians as fellow disciples of Messiah, but on an institutional level, he has little in common with them.

So if we are reviled and rejected by Jews or Christians for our beliefs, perhaps we are partaking in the Master’s suffering in some small way, and bearing his reproach.

For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Hebrews 13:14

TempleThis is why we’re willing to suffer. Our hope isn’t in this world or the present institutional state of the Church. We are waiting for the city to come, “New Jerusalem,” if you will, the Messianic Age.

I should note that Lancaster believes the Hebrews letter writer didn’t know that Jerusalem would be leveled a few short years in the future, but the Holy Spirit knew, so portions of this letter, including the above-quoted verse, are prophetic. Once there was no Temple, the believing Jews could only turn to the Heavenly Temple and the Heavenly High Priest, Yeshua.

This is where our faith lies, not in Heaven but in the future Messianic Kingdom come to earth. The price we pay is to share in the trials, the reproach, and the rejection of the world around us including many or most religious institutions. But in that rejection, we must not give up our faith in our Master, lest we lose our reward in the world to come. Too many Messianic Gentiles have lost their faith in the Master and converted to Judaism as their “true love.”

Like Abraham, God sent us out from the accepted and the familiar into an unknown territory and requires that we accept a promise of what we can’t see or touch or hear (see Genesis 12:1-4). We endure difficulties today for the sake of the fulfillment of the future. It’s as if we are approaching the end of a Passover seder and we say symbolically, “Next Year in (Messianic) Jerusalem.”

I must say that listening to this particular sermon brought up some of the same issues I discussed in yesterday’s morning meditation. It’s difficult to discuss the theological and doctrinal differences between traditional Christians, Messianic Judaism, and Hebrew Roots without at least potentially stepping on someone’s toes. How do you say that you love your fellow brothers and sisters in the faith and yet also acknowledge some of the extreme differences in viewpoint?

Next week, I’ll write my review of the final sermon in Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews” series.

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 30:18 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where Habakkuk comes in:

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

Habakkuk 2:1-4

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

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

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

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

2 Peter 3:9

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

Rambam
Mosheh ben Maimon, the Rambam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 10:39

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

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.

Hebrews 11:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 11:32-34

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

What Did I Learn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 11:15

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

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