Tag Archives: discipleship

You’re Amazing

It can take a long time until something is invented. But once one person has already broken through the creative barrier, others can easily follow suit and produce the same results. For example, it took many years until someone invented the first railroad train. But after one person invented it, many others built similar railroad trains. It doesn’t take a genius to model the work of a genius!

The same principle applies to spiritual growth. There were people in previous generations who reached great heights. They were innovators in the field of Jewish metaphysics. Since we now have them as models, the knowledge of how to reach spiritual greatness is available to all of us.

Today, think of five great people you have met or read about. What qualities do you most respect in each one? As you reflect on these qualities, consider how you would apply these same attributes to yourself.

(see Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz – Daas Chochmah Umussar, vol. 2, p.40)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Duplicate Spiritual Greatness”
Daily Lift #385
Aish.com

I’ve been spending a lot of time writing about and discussing the meaning and nature of non-Jewish identity within Jewish space, particularly within Messianic Jewish space. While it’s been suggested that most or even all non-Messianic Jewish synagogues would at least feel comfortable with non-Jews as guests (assuming these guests were polite and respectful), someone mentioned in a comment on another one of my missives that Messianic Jewish synagogues in Israel might not be so cool with that idea.

If it’s true, I can understand why.

I’ve heard it said that when a Jew makes aliyah and returns home to the Holy Land, they do one of two things: either increase their level of religious observance or become totally non-observant. There’s a single reason for both.

In Israel, a Jew has nothing to prove. They are Jewish. Israel is the Jewish homeland. End of story.

Except perhaps for Messianic Jews. I’m just supposing, since I’ve never been to Israel and I’ve never been to a Messianic synagogue in the Land, but if a Jew ever needs to prove he or she is an observant Jew in Israel, it’s when they are also a disciple of Yeshua (Jesus).

For thousands of years, any Jew who has been such a disciple has voluntarily converted to Christianity or been forcibly coerced into doing so. Though one process or another, they surrendered their Jewish practices and their Jewish identity and effectively became, at best, a “Hebrew Christian,” and at worst, a “Goyishe Christian”.

synagogueWhile there have been other Jews who have remained observant and become Yeshua-disciples historically, the weight of the Church’s requirement (demand) for Jews to abandon their covenant relationship with God so they can accept the grace of Jesus Christ is heavy on their shoulders.

Association with (Gentile) Christians in Messianic synagogues could easily be seen as compromising the Jewish identity and affiliations for Messianic Jews in Israel.

Like I said, this is based on a number of assumptions on my part and I’m sure PL or someone else can correct the mistakes I’m most likely making.

But particularly in Israel and certainly every place else, if non-Jewish disciples with a Messianic Jewish “leaning” can’t depend upon any sort of Jewish role model in order to understand ourselves (which I suppose could be rather “crazy-making” since, for a multitude of reasons, you can’t mix the two identities), where do we go?

Rabbi Pliskin no doubt was writing to a Jewish audience in the above quoted “Daily Lift” but he makes a suggestion I think we can all use.

Today, think of five great people you have met or read about. What qualities do you most respect in each one? As you reflect on these qualities, consider how you would apply these same attributes to yourself.

Think of five spiritually elevated people, five tzadikim, Jewish or Gentile. Consider what qualities they possess(ed) that you admire. Then incorporate those qualities over time into yourself.

Seems simple enough.

I know what you’re thinking…well, a few of you, anyway. You’re thinking “I want to imitate Jesus.” That’s fine and well. No better role model available. But then, what attributes or qualities about the Master do you want to emulate?

Yes, Yeshua donned tzitzit and laid tefillin but he was and is Jewish, so unless you’re a Jew (and if you are, you already have a set of traditions available to you that define the mitzvot for observant Jews), let’s just set those behaviors aside for now.

What about Yeshua’s kindness, his compassion for others, his wisdom, his sense of justice, his expression of duty and servitude to his followers, and even to strangers?

Those are all fine qualities to imitate, and you don’t even have to be Jewish to incorporate them into your own behavior.

kindnessLike Yeshua, you can give to charity. You can pray. You can “preach the Word”. You can urge others to repentance. You can look forward to the coming of the Kingdom and teach others to do the same.

There’s a lot you can do to imitate the Master. He gave plenty of examples that are accessible to any one of us right now.

Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to Yeshua or even anyone you know about from the Bible. Pick anyone you can think of who you consider spiritually great, figure out why they had such greatness, choose some qualities they displayed, and then learn to integrate them into your own life.

Above, I said it seems simple enough, but it really isn’t. It’s not simple or easy at all.

In fact, it will take a lot of hard work.

But that’s OK because you’ve got the rest of your life to work on improving yourself. So do I.

There are two basic things you (and I) can do to start off with: when you consider yourself, think the best of yourself, and when you consider other people, think the best of them, too.

There’s a blues chart I heard the other day called “I’m Amazing” by Keb’ Mo’. I inserted a link to a YouTube video of his performance in one of my comments on a previous meditation, but I’m sure it’s going to get lost there.

So I’m posting it at the bottom of this blog post where it won’t get lost, at least not as easily. I think my way of lifting up our spirits where many of my blog posts lately have been bringing them down.

If you are (or I am) not sure where to go in your walk of faith and your life of devotion to God, and especially if you’re frustrated because that walk cannot be defined as “Jewish,” it doesn’t mean there aren’t Biblical and other holy examples available to you. I just outlined how you can imitate the most important and holy Jew who ever lived and who still lives, Yeshua, and you don’t even have to be Jewish (or Torah-compliant, Torah-observant, Torah-submissive, or whatever) to do it.

We’re all amazing. It’s OK for you to be amazing. It’s OK to realize everyone around you is amazing, too.

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The Servant Prepares for the Sabbath

In 1922 the highly respected Jewish scholar Joseph Klausner claimed that any sound methodology critically examining the historical Jesus must meet at least two requirements. First, critical research must place Jesus believably among the Jewish people in first-century Israel. Second, the historical analysis should explain how the church and the synagogue parted ways, resulting in the formation of the new Christian religion. In 1985 Sanders upheld the validity of these foundational principles in his widely acclaimed book, Jesus and Judaism. Since one-third of the recorded sayings of Jesus appear in parables, these Gospel illustrations have the potential to solve a number of mysteries surrounding the nascent faith. Who is Jesus of Nazareth and how did Christianity originate? How has the presence of Jewish traditions in the parables of Jesus influenced Christianity?

-Brad H. Young
Epilogue: Jesus, the Parables, and the Jewish People, pg 297
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I sometimes (often) think that last question should read, “Do the presence of Jewish traditions in the parables of Jesus influence Christianity at all?” Even in the church I currently attend which is “Jewish-friendly” and “pro-Israel,” I’d have to say, “not very much.” Here’s what I mean:

He thereupon says to them, “Permit me to go repent!” And they answer him and say, “You fool! Do you know that this world is like the Sabbath and the world whence you have come is like the eve of the Sabbath? If a man does not prepare his meal on the eve of the Sabbath, what shall he eat on the Sabbath?”

-from Ruth Rabbah 3:3
quoted by Young in
Chapter 15: Death and Eschatology: The Theology of Imminence, pp 281-2

In this rabbinic parable, two wicked men have associated together in doing evil in this world for many years. Before they die, one repents and the other does not. The man who did not repent sees his friend who did repent standing among the righteous while he stands among the wicked. He “reasons” that a wicked man can repent and appeals to the company of the righteous but is rejected, for he failed to repent while still alive.

This compares well to Jesus’ parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens (Matthew 25:1-13) as well as to the following:

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Luke 16:19-31 (NASB)

the-teacher2This illustrates that the parables of the Master compared favorably with other rabbinic parables. His audience would have known well what he was communicating since what Jesus taught was similar to the topics and methods employed by other teachers in late second-temple period Israel (and remember what I’ve said before about repentance and eternal judgment).

But what you may have missed earlier is the comparison of the current life to the eve of Shabbat and the life of the world to come to the Shabbat.

Particularly in Orthodox Judaism, Friday afternoon can be a rush to get everything ready before Shabbat arrives at sundown. All the meals that will be consumed during Shabbat must be prepared ahead of time, the Shabbat table must be set, special clothes should be laundered and ready to wear, everything that must be purchased and organized before the Shabbat has to be taken care of, all with an eye on the lowering Sun and the purpose for all the labor…the Shabbat rest and the drawing near to God.

This is a pattern that happens every week. For one-seventh (and a little more) of the week, observant Jews experience a foretaste of the world to come, of the Messianic Era of peace and tranquility when the problems of the world and regular life are set aside and a greater apprehension of God through the Torah study, prayer, and worship becomes available.

But day-to-day life is just like the afternoon prior to Shabbat. We have our work, our labors, our worries, our concerns. What we are working for makes a difference. If we are working just to accumulate wealth and the illusion of material security, when the “Sabbath” comes, when we die, when we are judged, we finally realize that all of our work has been wasted.

If, on the other hand, we are working to authentically prepare for “Shabbat,” that is, to prepare our lives and our souls for an encounter with God in a life beyond this one, after the resurrection, in the face of Divine judgment, then our work is not in vain and will be rewarded. We will have prepared our home in the Kingdom.

But if you’re a Christian who has no true understanding of a Jewish Sabbath, all of this will be missed in reading the parables of Jesus. What a pity.

But there’s more we’re missing:

It is like a consort who had a Cushite maidservant. The consort’s husband went off to a foreign province. All night the maidservant said to the consort: I am more beautiful than you. The king loves me more than he loves you. The consort replied: Let morning come,and we will know who is more beautiful and whom the king loves.

Similarly, the nations of the world say to Israel: Our deeds are more beautiful, and we are the ones whom the Holy One, blessed be He, desires. Therefore Israel says: Let morning come, and we will know whom the Holy One, blessed be He, desires — as it is said, “The watchman replied, Morning comes” (Isa. 21:12): Let the world to come, which is called morning, arrive, “and you shall come to see the difference between the righteous and the wicked” (Mal. 3:18).

-See Midrash Tanchuma, ed. Buber (Num. Rab. 16:23); trans. Stern, Parables in Midrash, 116
quoted by Young, pg 286

Roger Waters
Roger Waters

This parable can be applied in a number of ways, not the least of which is how arrogantly western nations, the mainstream news media, and the sadly deluded BDS crowd believe they are so much more “righteous” than “apartheid” Israel. However, at least historically, this parable also tells us a tale about the Church and how Christianity has viewed itself in comparison with Judaism and the Jewish people. Classic supersessionism is illustrated in the above-quoted parable, with the Church believing itself more beautiful than Israel and more loved than Judaism, as if the maidservant would ever be able to replace the consort in the heart of the King.

Imagine this to be the result of the arrogance of such a belief:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

I’ve previously applied this parable to those disciples of Jesus who failed to count the cost of following him and thus failed to commit the effort required to serve the great King of Israel. However, as part of being the King’s slave, we must be prepared to serve what he deems as his first love, Israel. If we place ourselves as Gentile servants higher than the Jewish nation, are we not committing lawlessness? For after all, even the Master said “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22) [to the nations], not the other way around.

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11 (NASB)

hagar_and_sarahThere are still many Christians who believe because they “have Christ,” they are inherently better than Jewish people, sometimes even those Jews who are considered “Messianic”. If you believe God replaced Israel with the Church, then you believe you deserve the bridegroom’s place at the head of the banquet table. And you believe you, the maidservant, are more beautiful and better loved by the King than the consort.

And you are wrong.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

Romans 11:17-24 (NASB)

See how all this fits together? How can we believe anything else except what Jesus taught and what Paul wrote about?

But some of you reading this may think that I’m saying Christian faith is meaningless because we are not Jewish, we are not Israel. I’m saying nothing of the kind. I just don’t want you to “reverse causality.” It is through the covenant promises God made to Israel that the people of the nations even have a shot at repentance, redemption, and salvation, through faith in King Messiah, the King who is in a far off land but who will soon return.

Let the morning come and show who the King loves, but let us put our hearts and lives in order, as if we were preparing our homes for the coming Shabbat. Then we will be ready when the bridegroom arrives.

In many ways, the Gospel parables belong to the rich cultural heritage and folklore traditions of the Jewish people. No one will grasp the meaning of Jesus’ parables without an extensive knowledge of ancient Judaism. Christian interpretations have tended to sever the parables from their cultural roots and apply them to new situations. In the destiny of humankind, the transcendence of the colorful illustrations goes beyond a single interpretation at one time and place in history.

-Young, pg 298

I sometimes encounter words and phrases such as Sola Scriptura, “let scripture interpret scripture,” and “Biblical sufficiency” as indicators that we only need a Christian reader and a Bible to fully and completely derive all of the meaning of the teachings of Jesus. I hope that I (and Young) have been successful in bringing into question the validity of such a simple equation.

We want the Bible to be easy to understand because otherwise, it would take a lot of time and effort to even begin to comprehend the parables in a similar manner to the original first-century Jewish audience. We want to think that when Jesus was speaking, he was speaking to us…to 21st century American Christians.

He wasn’t. Not even close.

jewish-davening-by-waterNo, I’m not saying that his teachings don’t apply to our lives today, but in order to see just how they apply, we must attempt to grasp how they were understood and applied to Jewish lives nearly twenty centuries ago in a land, culture, and linguistic context far removed from our own.

I can only say that the more I study, the more I’m convinced that in order to understand Jesus, you have to understand the Judaism in which he lived and taught. You have to study ancient and arguably modern Judaism. It is said that a disciple is a student who learns from doing, from imitating his or her Master. We are disciples and we are slaves. Our Master is a great teacher and a King. Learning through imitation isn’t a matter if cheap pantomime or cosplay where we play “dress up” and attempt to superficially mimic our Master, it’s drawing near to his every wish, desire, and command in order to deeply comprehend his meaning and intent in all things. Only then can we apply this to our lives and behave in obedience in every aspect of our daily existence.

Only then will we be worthy of his praise when he says to us, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matthew 25:21). Only then will we be properly prepared for the Sabbath. Let the morning come.

The Cost of Serving the King: Lessons in Discipleship

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Luke 14:28-33 (NASB)

The twin parables of the Tower Builder and the King Going to War (Luke 14:28-33) focus on the self-examination necessary to make a decision for surrendering to the call of Jesus. The ultimate commitment is demanded of every disciple. No one should make such a decision rashly. Just as cost estimation is needed to build a tower in a field and intense strategic planning is required to wage war, the one considering discipleship must weigh the cost. To complete the task successfully, one must consider each demand in Jesus’ teachings concerning the kingdom of heaven. Only after intensive self-testing should the decision be made to follow Jesus in his call to radical discipleship.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 12: The Decision: The Tower Builder and the King Going to War,” pg 222
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I can’t believe the day after I published this blog post discussing, in part, what it is to truly surrender our lives to Messiah and acknowledge him as Lord, that I should read the opening words of this chapter which address the same thing.

Many Evangelicals consider their work done when they inspire a person to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord by making some sort of initial statement. That person is “saved.” Move on to the next poor, lost soul.

Except I think the process of “salvation” may be more than a point event. I think it’s a process, sometimes a long process, before anyone actually arrives at the place where they recognize the very real cost of becoming a disciple of the Master and what it will really take to “surrender all” and to follow him. We are told to count the cost of becoming a disciple, making what, for all intents and purposes, is an irrevocable vow, and then binding ourselves in servitude to him, following our Master in all he desires from us.

D. Thomas Lancaster in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, addressed the ancient practice of teaching initiates into Messianic discipleship in two messages: Instructions About Washings and The Initiation. By comparison, what do we do today in the Christian Church to prepare those we have brought to the beginning knowledge of Christ to count the cost, leave their former lives behind them, pick up their cross and to follow him?

Not darn much, for the most part.

No disciple should begin training in the kingdom of God unless he or she has recognized fully the insistent demands of total commitment and has determined to shoulder the responsibilities with unrelenting resolve.

-ibid

How many of us, as believers, possess “unrelenting resolve,” especially in America where we are pretty much fat and happy? And if we are not prepared for the challenges of being a disciple, will be face the same consequences as one who starts building a tower and cannot finish or a King who goes into war and has his army smashed?

An ignominious defeat will ruin a king, destroy his kingdom, and cost him everything. The disciple’s defeat can be just as devastating.

-ibid, pg 223

FallingIn response to a “leap-before-you-look” kind of religious zeal that leads many people to “accept Christ” before knowing anything about him and what he requires, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his book Growth Through Torah (pg 358) responds with this advice:

“A Torah scholar should be consulted whenever questions arise.”

In the case of Christianity, the very people who are out evangelizing should be the ones urging each potential initiate to be cautious. Do not be premature. Learn. Study. Discover who this Jesus Christ is and what you must truly pay in order to follow him on his path.

For Luke these parables form a complex of teachings focusing on radical discipleship. Hating one’s parents or dying for one’s beliefs are concepts that perplex and challenge.

-Young, pg 223

Unfortunately, potential disciples are not told the truth of Messiah upfront. Often they (we) take months, years, or even decades to discover (if we are fortunate ever to do so) the cost of following the King of the Jews.

For Christianity, the cross has become more a symbol of salvation than a call to radical discipleship.

-ibid, pg 224

We tell people about salvation, forgiveness of sins as a free gift of Christ, an eternal life of bliss up in Heaven with Jesus, and all the really attractive stuff. We never tell them what they have to do once they “sign on the dotted line.”

But the danger of diluting Jesus’ radical call to action by spiritualizing his practical teachings is never very far removed from the preaching of salvation through the cross. In the teachings of Jesus, in contrast, the image of the cross was a call to radical discipleship. One must hear and obey. The stress was not on salvation but on obedience. The fear of God is rooted in the wisdom obtained through Torah learning and active involvement in fulfilling wisdom’s teaching.

-ibid

By wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
And by knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.
A wise man is strong,
And a man of knowledge increases power.
For by wise guidance you will wage war,
And in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Proverbs 24:3-6 (NASB)

Knowledge and wisdom are absolute requirements before beginning to design and build a structure, whether it be a tower or a house. If you go in blind, depending on taking someone else’s word that everything will work out fine if you just “accept Jesus into your heart,” the walls could end up falling down around your ears.

Young ponders whether or not Jesus had Proverbs 24 in mind as he crafted his parables and believes it is likely. I suppose it’s possible Paul also was thinking in that direction:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.

Romans 10:1-2 (NASB)

In my previous commentary on these verses, I mentioned that information was not lacking among the Jewish devout, but specific knowledge about how Jesus was and is the goal, the aim, the focusing crystal and makes the meaning of the Torah so much more clear was lacking in some, just as the basic, elemental principles of Christian faith are often lacking, not just in new converts to the faith today, but people who have been in the Church for years.

It is true that works without faith is dead, but what about an uninformed faith? Can you consent to give your life to something you don’t understand? Are you held accountable to words you cannot fathom? Actually, I believe you can.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

awareness-of-godJesus connects lawlessness with those who bear no fruit, that is, they do not lead lives transformed by their faith, and there is no evidence of the Spirit in their daily lives and no obedience to God. How can this be unless they have not actually, truly surrendered all of who they are (we are) to the demands of a very demanding King and Master. If Jesus is the Lord of our lives, then he may command anything and we must obey.

For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

Luke 7:8 (NASB)

The Roman Centurion “got it,” but that’s what we can expect of a man who served in a brutal military hierarchy under the reign of an unrelenting Emperor.

Like I said, in America, in the church as well as anywhere else, we’re too “fat and happy”. We think discipline is going to the gym three or four days a week.

R. Samuel bar Nahman said in the name of R. Jonathan: By what parable may the verse just above be explained? By that of a king who lived in a certain principality. When the people of the principality provoked him, the king was angered [and would not abide in their midst]. He removed himself some ten miles from the city before he stopped. A man who saw him went to the people in the city and said: Know that the king is angry at you and may well send legions against the city to destroy it. Go out and appease him before he removes himself still further away from you. Thereupon a wise man who was standing by said to the people: Fools, while he was in your midst, you did not seek him. Now, before he moves further away, seek him out. He may receive you. Hence it is said “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found” (Isa. 55:6)…

See Pesik. Rab Kab., suppl. 7:3 (Pesikta Derav Kahana, ed. Mandelbaum, 2:472; English trans., Braude and Kapstein, Kahana, 491). Cf. the discussion of McArthur and Johnson, Parables, 194, as quoted by Young pg 227

But it is also said:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?

Romans 10:14-15 (NASB)

And yet in verse 13, Paul states, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But you can’t call on someone you do not know. And you cannot know someone unless you learn of them, spend time with them, discover the desire of their heart. You cannot commit unless you are willing. You cannot commit unless you understand and agree to the price of commitment. We’re all taught about the “free gift of salvation” but never about the “real cost of discipleship.”

Joshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a teacher…

-Pirkei Avot 1:6

It’s ironic that in considering the cost, some might believe it is too high and then choose not to follow. However in the end, the cost of refusing to become indentured servants of the great King is higher still.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Laying on of Hands

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands…

Hebrews 6:1-2 (ESV)

The writer of the book of Hebrews lists “the laying on of hands” as one of the elementary teachings of the Messiah. What is the laying on of hands and what did it signify to the early believers? Listen to a rapid Bible study on the subject of semichah in the apostolic era.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-two: Laying on of Hands
Originally presented on June 29, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

I’ll warn you right now that if you are a traditional Evangelical or Charismatic Christian, you aren’t going to like this.

Typically, in Christianity, when we think of the “laying on of hands” we think that it’s for healing. We have examples in the New Testament (Matthew 19:13, Mark 10:13, 16, Luke 4:40) of Jesus healing by the laying on of hands. But this isn’t typically a Jewish practice as we understand the concept. While we find the laying on of hands or semichah in the Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh or “Old Testament”), it’s isn’t for healing.

According to Lancaster, we find three different types of laying on of hands in the Tanakh:

  1. Bestowing a blessing
  2. For sacrifices
  3. Commissioning a successor

From Lancaster’s perspective, the first type is what we see in the New Testament when we see a laying on of hands for healing. This, he believes, is a subset of laying on of hands for blessing, since isn’t healing a form of blessing?

After all, Jacob blessed Ephraim and Manasseh by putting his hands on them (Genesis 48:13-14) and Jesus also blessed children by putting his hands on them (Matthew 19:13-15).

Lancaster cited Leviticus 1:4 and the surrounding text as an example of the second type of laying on of hands, where one brings a sacrifice to the Tabernacle (later, the Temple) and lays hands on the animal to indicate substitutionary sacrifice, as if to say, “The animal is mine and it represents me.”

Numbers 27:15-23 is the example Lancaster provides for the third type of laying on of hands, when Moses transfers his authority to Joshua, also conferring a portion of the Spirit that was upon Moses upon Joshua.

Lancaster actually provided many more examples but I don’t want to simply transcribe his sermon onto my blog as I seem to do more often than not.

But then he pulled the rug out from under his audience by saying that none of these examples apply to what we see in Hebrews 6:1-2, at least not exactly. Each of the prior “elementary principles” were very general in their application, but the examples from the Tanakh are all specific to certain people, roles, and situations.

So what is the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews saying is so elemental about laying on of hands?

The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

Acts 6:5-6 (NASB)

laying on of handsThis was the commissioning of specific individuals within the congregation to act as Elders to serve the congregation as a whole.

Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 8:14-19 (NASB)

The act of laying on of hands also seems associated with the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Here we see that Philip baptized the Samaritans in water but they did not receive the Spirit. Only when Peter and John went down to investigate and laid hands on the Samaritan disciples was the Spirit conferred upon them.

So is there a hazy connection at best between the laying on of hands in the Old Testament and the New or is there something we’re missing?

Lancaster painted a picture of the interconnectedness of a Master and a disciple. When Moses wanted to pass on authority to the next generation, to Joshua, he laid hands upon him. It’s also believed midrashically that Moses laid hands on the seventy elders who received the Spirit (Numbers 11:16-25).

Moses received the Torah from [G-d at] Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly.

-Pirkei Avot 1:1

It is believed that as Moses passed on authority to Joshua through the laying on of hands, Joshua subsequently passed on authority to the Elders through the same process, then the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly. Whether this literally happened or not, it was a standard belief by the time of Jesus and was the basis of the authority of the Pharisees.

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses…

Matthew 23:1-2 (NASB)

Jesus could accurately say that the Pharisees are seated on the chair of Moses because of this tradition. I know, the words “seated themselves” could be interpreted as Jesus stating the Pharisees seized authority they did not rightly possess, but on the other hand, but in verse 3 he continued, “therefore all that they tell you, do and observe…” indicating that their authority was legitimate.

Receiving the SpiritThe idea is that from generation to generation, Masters always laid on hands upon their disciples to pass on their authority and teachings to the next generation, to the next generation and to the next, and so on, and so on, and so on. Lancaster believes Jesus did the same in passing on his authority and Spirit.

Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.

Matthew 10:1 (NASB)

We don’t actually see Jesus laying his hands upon his disciples in order to confer authority, but given the history from the Torah and the traditions in Judaism at that time, it seems a likely assumption. Lancaster then went on to create a chain of other verses (you can listen to the sermon for the specifics) to support his claim of authorities laying on hands of “sent out ones” to apply authority and to transfer the Spirit as Moses did with Joshua. Joshua passed on his authority to his “disciples” in a similar manner and taught them to pass on authority in a like manner to future generations.

Based on all this, Lancaster believes it was a common practice, after a novice disciple in Yeshua (Jesus) repented of their sins, came to faith, received basic instructions, and was immersed in the name of the Master, that he or she next received a laying on of hands as an acknowledgement that they were a new disciple in a legal ritual that was common to Judaism.

This is what Lancaster says is being referenced in Hebrews 6:1-2.

Then he said the thing that Pentecostals aren’t going to like. He said that this was not the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It was a legal ritual of acknowledging a person had met the requirements for admission into the body of believers as a full-fledged disciple. It also signified the conferring of the Holy Spirit upon that person, not likely to have been accompanied by any dramatic events (Acts 2 and 10) but probably a reception of the Spirit that we see commonly in our own day. If something dramatic happened, it was written down, so most of the time, nothing was recorded.

What Did I Learn?

I thought it was a bit of a stretch applying the beginning of the Pirkei Avot not only backward in time but forward. It is highly unlikely that there really was an unbroken chain of discipleship and authority literally from Moses and Joshua down to the Pharisees in the late Second Temple period. However, I can see it being a traditional belief and that such a belief could have been incorporated into “boarding” new disciples into Jesus-faith.

Jesus blessed the apostles and conferred authority and his Spirit (Acts 2) onto them, and they subsequently laid hands on their disciples (Acts 8, 10), and the Elders of congregations, both Jewish and Gentile, passed authority and the Spirit onto their own disciples and so on.

But the chain ultimately was broken. What happened to this process?

Lancaster says he is NOT saying you can only receive the Spirit through the laying on of hands. That was the process in the days of the apostles, but those days are gone. Evangelical Christianity doesn’t really like an ongoing chain of authority. I’ve heard some “not nice” things said about Catholics in the church I attend based, in part, on the existence of a Pope, and Cardinals, and Priests who form an overarching body of authority within the Catholic Church.

I’ve heard it preached in the church I attend that God planned to de-centralize authority by scattering the apostles, destroying the Temple, banning the Jews from Jerusalem, so that the gospel message would be spread and authority would be diluted and reapportioned to the leaders and elders of individual, local churches (that is, removed from Jewish control and placed in the hands of Gentile Christians).

Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel SchneersonEven in modern Judaism, there are really lots and lots of different “Judaisms.” Even Orthodox Judaism does not have a central leadership, and with the death of the Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson) in 1994, no subsequent Rebbe was appointed, though the Chabad Chassidim still focus on him and their headquarters at “770” in Crown Heights (Brooklyn) as their link back through time from one Rebbe to another. But that only applies to the Chabad. Some Judaisms and Christianities maintain a central authority and interlinking discipleship system specific to their groups, but for the most part, in modern times, each individual negotiates their own relationship with God.

Every religious group has their own traditions and rituals, even Evangelical Christianity. The laying on of hands to acknowledge a new disciple in Yeshua may be one of those rituals we’ve lost over time and one that, in Lancaster’s opinion, would be good to bring back, not because it’s absolutely vital for receiving the Holy Spirit, but as a solemn ceremony welcoming a new disciple into the community.

Is Lancaster correct in all of his beliefs? I don’t know. He makes a nice case for it, and I don’t doubt that the laying on of hands was one of the ancient rituals among the body of believers in apostolic times. I just believe that the chain of passing on authority was very likely broken somewhere between Moses and the Pharisees, just as it was broken after the end of the apostolic era.

May Yeshua lay his scarred hands upon us and acknowledge us as his disciples, imbuing us with his Spirit, and providing us with the courage to endure until he returns.

If You Had to Choose Between Jesus and Your Spouse…

If someone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother and his wife and his children and his brothers and his sisters and even his own life, he is not worthy to be my disciple.

Luke 14:26 (DHE Gospels)

I know I’m quoting this verse out of context, but I find it hard to reconcile with the following.

Have you not read that from the beginning the Maker “created them male and female,” and it says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? If so, they are not two any longer, but one flesh. Thus, what God has joined, man must not divide.

Matthew 19:6 (DHE Gospels)

On the one hand, Jesus seems to value marriage quite highly (what God has joined) but on the other hand, we are to reject (hate) our family including our wives, presumably if our family opposes our becoming disciples of Jesus.

As an intermarried husband, this is particularly difficult for me, especially when I see my marriage through this scripture:

But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through [h]her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

1 Corinthians 7:12-16 (NASB)

Also, Ephesians 5:22-33 says many fine things about marriage and how a husband and wife are to love one another. How can God join us together, tell us how to love, say that it is acceptable for a believing spouse to be joined with an unbelieving spouse if both are willing, and then tell the husband he is not worthy of being a disciple is he does not hate his wife?

intermarriageThis is one of those “difficult sayings of Jesus” that isn’t easy to answer.

Messianic or “Jewish-friendly” Christian commentaries on such specific topics aren’t always readily available, but I did find a conventional Christian response by Pastor Mark Driscoll. I know nothing about him, but he did write something detailed on this particular verse.

Jesus’ call to discipleship can be difficult. Contrary to common practice today, Jesus was not in the business of getting anyone and everyone he could in the door of his discipleship program. Instead, he took painstaking measures to clarify the costs of following him. Those who heard him often abandoned their pursuit after hearing his messages (John 6:52–71). In keeping with this truth, Jesus’ requirements for discipleship set out in Luke 14:26 are hard for us to hear.

Thankfully, there is another sense for the word “hate,” as it pertains to this passage. When it’s used in the Old Testament, particularly in the Wisdom Literature, the word loses its psychological force (Michel, “μισεω,” in TDNT, 4:687.). Instead, it carries a sense of intensified choice. For instance, in Proverbs, the writer often instructs the reader to choose righteousness over evil, often worded in terms of love and hate. The call is to reject (= hate) evil and to embrace (= love) righteousness. In Jesus’ statement here in Luke 14:26, the same principle is at play.

-Driscoll, “Tough Text Tuesday – Luke 14:26”
pastormark.tv

That helps a little but not as much as you might think. Still, the suggestion of a choice between two paths reminded me somewhat of a Kal va-chomer or “lighter to heavier” argument. If I reword the passage from Luke 14, I could say, “If you love your wife whom God has joined with you, how much more should you love Messiah, who God brought for the sake of the world?”

I suppose that could be worded better, but you get the idea. No, I’m not rewriting the Bible, far be it from me to do so. But I am suggesting in my own wee commentary (call it a small midrash, for what it’s worth) that, even if my wife is an unbeliever, I don’t have to hate her so I can love Jesus. I can love my wife, and I can also apprehend the great requirement to love and be devoted to Messiah, Son of David, who is the living embodiment of God’s promises for atonement, redemption, salvation, and the resurrection. He is the hope, not just for me, but for everyone. He is the hope that someday my wife will be saved, so in a way, by choosing him, I am also choosing her, for if I should choose her by rejecting Jesus, then how do I know I’m not dooming us both? Loving Jesus then, is also loving my wife.

Messianic Evangelism

Some people object to this. When they see Messianic Jews declaring the Gospel to other Jewish People and to Gentiles, they say, “Why are you doing that? That’s not Jewish. We Jews are not a proselytizing faith.” Well, that may be a popular notion to many people, but it isn’t true. In Matthew 23:15, Yeshua says, “Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees. You hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert and, when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” Clearly, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were proselytizing. They were telling people about God. They were winning converts, Yeshua says. So, sharing our faith is definitely Jewish. Not only was it true in the First Century, and before Messiah came, but it is also true today.

-Jonathan Bernis
“Good News for Israel”
Jewish Voice Ministries International

Last Sunday afternoon, I had my regular “coffee meeting” with a friend of mine. We meet every other week to talk about all sorts of things, but mainly to maintain relationship, friendship and community in Messiah. My friend is one of the few people in my life (face-to-face or online) who can really challenge me and present me with questions that make me stop and think. It’s not always comfortable but is it always inspiring.

Over lattes, he asked me how I’m personally sharing the good news of Messiah to the people around me as a Messianic Gentile. He didn’t word it exactly like that, but I have a reason for expressing the query this way.

Just about anyone I can think of who is involved in either Messianic Judaism or some aspect of the Hebrew Roots movement entered these movements by way of a Church experience. Before I entered Hebrew Roots and then became more Messianic in my practice and study, I came to faith in a Nazarene church here in Southwestern Idaho. Even the Jewish people I know, with rare exception, entered Messianic Judaism after coming to faith in Jesus (Yeshua) as Messiah within normative Christianity.

In other words, it wasn’t a Messianic Jewish or Messianic Gentile evangelist who shared the good news of Moshiach and the coming Kingdom of God with any of these folks. For me, a more traditional Christian evangelist (in my case, a youth Pastor and friend of my brother-in-law) asked me that standard question, “If you were to die tonight, do you know where your soul would go?”

share the gospelThat’s a horrible introductory line in my opinion, and the actual process of me coming to faith took a large number of specific steps and encounters over a six month to one year period of time. But in the end, I made the initial baby steps of coming to faith and then my life fell apart.

But how would a person with a Messianic Gentile perspective on the Bible come to evangelize, not Christians in the normative Church, which is what we’re used to doing, but atheists or even people from completely unrelated religious traditions, telling them of the plan of personal salvation through Christ?

It’s not an easy question to answer, because I believe the “good news” of Messiah is so much more than just a plan for personal salvation. Scot McKnight expanded on this idea in his book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited and I agree that we (the Church) have reduced the actual gospel message down to a bullet list of talking points centered around individual salvation so that a person may be forgiven of their sins and go to Heaven when they die.

The gospel message of Jesus is often simplified down to believe in Christ and your sins will be forgiven and you will go to heaven when you die. In episode eight this common misconception will be challenged. Viewers will discover that the main message of the gospel is one of repentance and entering into the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not the place we go to when we die but rather God’s kingdom coming down here on earth. The gospel message is about preparation for the Messianic Age.

from the introduction to Episode 8
The Gospel Message
from the First Fruits of Zion television series
A Promise of What is to Come

The episode is only about thirty minutes long and free to view by clicking the link I provided. It offers a more expanded understanding of what the good news or gospel message of Messiah is really all about.

The Gospel MessageBut that story is aimed at people who already have faith in Christ and who are looking for a deeper understanding of what that faith actually means based on a Hebraic examination of the scriptures.

How do you introduce this sort of stuff to people who have no background in it at all? If I go up to someone, tell them I’m a Christian, and ask if they would like to talk about Jesus, they may say “yes” or they may say “no,” but they’ll at least have some idea of what I’m talking about. If I go up to that same person and tell them I’m a Messianic and ask if they would like to talk about the coming Kingdom of God and the blessings of the Messianic Age, they’d have no idea what I was saying and would probably think I’m some sort of religious cult nut.

The Sunday before Easter, one of the Pastors at church announced from the pulpit the opportunity for anyone who desired, to join with others on Good Friday to go door to door in the neighborhood offering to share the gospel message and to pray with people. For a brief instant, I imagined myself doing such a thing, but then all the questions about the true nature of the gospel I mentioned above came flooding in.

I want to share my faith, but it doesn’t always have a lot in common with the doctrinal position of Evangelicals, so how could I employ Evangelical religious tracts and Evangelical language and concepts in any program of sharing faith as I understand it?

Arguably, there are only two populations that Messianics attempt to engage: normative Judaism and the Church. Messianic Jews attempt to communicate to wider Judaism about the Moshiach, Yeshua HaNazir, and the New Covenant promise of a restored Israel and a reunited Jewish people as the head of all peoples and nations of the Earth. Messianic Gentiles and Hebrew Roots Gentiles tend to try to convince people in the Church or people who are disaffected and who have left the Church, that the Messianic and/or Hebrew Roots perspective on scripture tells a more authentic and accurate story about the relationship between God and humanity.

But how do we (or do we ever) communicate our message to people outside of those frameworks, people who don’t have the theological background we usually require of our audiences, and help them understand what it is to be a disciple of the Master?

I know of only one, single missionary effort currently operating, in this case in Uganda, that works to evangelize unbelieving populations directly from a Messianic perspective: Acts for Messiah. As the introductory text regarding their mission states:

ACTS for Messiah serves to follow in the footsteps of Yeshua and the apostles, providing for the needy, feeding the hungry, and providing a home for the children left in the streets. Our current area of operation is in Tororo, Uganda, where Emily Dywer brings ministry to small villages and runs an orphanage rescuing children from desperate and dangerous situations, giving them hope and a future…

That might be the answer or at least part of it. It’s not just what we say, but what we do and how we live. The answer may not be in the differences in perspective between Christians and Messianics (and of course, Messianics are Christians who simply view scripture from a different and more Hebraic perspective), but the similarities. At the end of the day, it’s all about humble obedience to the teachings of the Master, following the path, feeding the hungry, providing clothing, offering comfort, showing kindness, even to the unkind, for they are the ones who need kindness the most.

the missionary next doorI’m not a big fan of knocking on doors and offering to share the good news with strangers. I’ve been at the receiving end of door-to-door evangelists of one type or another and an unanticipated visit is usually an interruption. On the other hand, I am discounting the Holy Spirit and encounters previously arranged outside human awareness.

We have to start somewhere. We can’t just talk to ourselves about what we already know and we can’t just target limited populations if we really believe we have a good message that people need.

But where to begin? If you call yourself a Messianic anything, do you share your message with strangers or at least with atheists with whom you’re acquainted? How do you talk to someone about faith in a Jewish Messiah within the context of Messianic worship and faith?

The comments section is now open.