Tag Archives: Elementary Principles

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Eternal Judgment

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, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

Hebrews 6:1-2 (NASB)

As I mentioned in last week’s review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon The Resurrection of the Dead from his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews lectures, the following message “The Eternal Judgment” wasn’t recorded, thus I cannot listen to it and write my review.

However, that material was included in Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity, so I’ll review the chapter (Chapter 10) instead.

But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”

Acts 24:24-25 (NASB)

Lancaster introduces his chapter by describing the marriage of Felix, the Roman governor over Judea, to the Jewish princess Drusilla, youngest daughter of King Herod Agrippa the first. Supposedly, Felix hired a sorcerer to use occult means to get Drusilla to abandon her husband and marry him. Felix wasn’t a very nice man.

In today’s world, intermarriage between a Jew and a Gentile, at least in Orthodox Judaism, is highly discouraged. How much more embarrassing was it for a Jewish princess to marry, not just any Roman, but the occupying governor over Judea?

But then, although it was (according to Lancaster) Drusilla’s idea to have a private discussion with Paul, it was Felix’s response that was the point of this story. And while resurrection of the dead might seem like a great deal, what about “the judgment to come?”

It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.

Hebrews 9:27

Associating concepts like “righteousness” and “resurrection” with “self-control” and “judgment” would probably not be comfortable to hear, assuming Felix took Paul seriously, since Felix could hardly be considered a pious individual, even by Roman standards. In fact, if we really gave it some thought and realized that the resurrection and final judgment are in our future as well, how comfortable would we feel about who we are and what we’ve done (or are doing)?

Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

Matthew 25:30-33 (NASB)

Judge NotI won’t quote all of the scriptures Lancaster lists to illustrate Jesus and the final judgment, but he does make a convincing case that if God does not exact justice for human wrongdoing in this life, He most certainly will in the next.

In Messianic Judaism, we rehearse for the final judgment every year in the high holiday of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (Festival of Trumpets and Day of Atonement). Judaism treats high holidays as an annual dress rehearsal for the final eternal judgment. In anticipation of the holidays, we repent, confess sins, mend relationships, apologize, and try to make peace with both men and God.

-Lancaster, pg 127

This may sound somewhat familiar since I associated the topic of forgiveness with the high holidays in a recent blog post reviewing a chapter in Brad H. Young’s book The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation. In my review Young’s book, I said that most Christians wouldn’t (but should) automatically associate making amends with another person with how we will be forgiven (or not) by God at the final judgment.

Now Lancaster seems to be saying that the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the Jewish religious calendar has applications for Christians as well, since it is in the apostolic scriptures where we see a final judgment staring at us square in the face.

Except that since we’re “saved by the blood of Jesus,” we (that is, Christians) aren’t particularly worried about being judged. Jesus paid the price for our sins so we’ve got our “fire insurance” covered. No need to “rehearse” anything since we’ve already won, God is on our side, and everything is hunky dory.

Boy, that sounds arrogant.

While Rosh Hashanah, when the books are opened before the Heavenly court, and Yom Kippur, when the final verdicts are issued and the books are closed again, are not the actual final judgment, they prefigure this awesome and august event, and perhaps we shouldn’t play fast and loose with a living and infinite God. God can indeed issue decrees in the present age and in our lives in response to your actions and mine, but there will come that final day, even if we push it off into the back of our minds, when we will all be expected to stand in judgment.

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair on his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

Daniel 7:9-10

yom kippurLancaster goes on to describe “one like a son of man” stepping forward in this vision of the final judgment, to deliver the sentencing. He quoted from the apocryphal book Enoch (1 Enoch 69:27-29) and the following to illustrate the judgment seat of Messiah:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.

2 Corinthians 5:10-11

In these words, Paul expressed his motive for evangelism…Paul knew the fear of the LORD. To fear God is to believe that he exists, rewards, and punishes. Paul knew that eventually God will judge the wicked and reward the righteous. He taught that we must all stand before Messiah in the final judgment.

-Lancaster, pg 131

All of us? Won’t Christians just be there to pick up our rewards? We won’t have to give account for everything we’ve done wrong in our lives after becoming believers, will we?

What if we do?

We think that final judgment just means going to Heaven or Hell, but what if it also means we have to have our human lives stripped naked before us and relive everything we’ve done, both good and bad?

Yuck. Kind of makes you want to be more careful about all of those casual thoughts, words, and gestures you’re sure God is going to forgive because you’ve been saved and go to church every Sunday.

But it gets worse.

Generally speaking, the doctrine of the eternal judgment has fallen into disfavor. Perhaps this shift in emphasis from everlasting punishment to a blissful afterlife occurred as a natural swing of the theological pendulum. The medieval and Reformation-era church had an unhealthy fascination with the torments of hell. Evangelicals later demonstrated the same fixation, predicating their appeal for the gospel on the basis of avoiding damnation. The church framed Christianity primarily as an avenue of escape from everlasting fiery tortures and the pitchfork of Satan. We substituted the foundational doctrine of eternal judgment for the doctrine of eternal damnation.

-ibid, pg 132

justiceIt seems to be a mistake to trust in any extreme, either a fascination with damnation or an obsession with bliss. The former focuses on God’s judgment as if it were a terrible trap and the later on His mercy as if it is all-encompassing…no matter what we’ve actually done.

The eternal judgment is so basic and fundamental to our faith that the writer of the book of Hebrews considers it to be the milk. It is pretty simple. We believe that every human life has eternal significance — so much so that the deeds committed in this body will have ramifications that completely transcend time. That makes every moment of this life precious. It makes every opportunity to perform a good work (mitzvah) precious. It makes every sin utterly abhorrent. Every righteous deed merits eternal reward, and every sin earns eternal punishment. Ironically, the doctrine of the eternal judgment makes life in this temporary world all the more significant.

-ibid, pg 133

We can only imagine that what terrified (according to Lancaster) Felix so much was being resurrected into a world where an absolutely just God would judge him for all the acts of his life…and condemn him. Not a pleasant thought to be sure. We all want our pleasures and want to skip out (as much as we can get away with) on our responsibilities. Anyone who struggles with the “battle of the bulge” and against all reason and logic still can’t give up their Big Macs and Whoppers knows that self-disciple isn’t easy…even in the face of dire consequences.

What Did I Learn?

Are our names already written in the Book of Life or the Book of Death? Did God makes these decisions, who was to be commended and who was to be damned, before He ever manufactured our universe?

From God’s point of view, His timeless experience, things like “before,” “during,” and “after” most likely have no meaning. The creation of Adam from dust and opening the Book of Life at the final judgment exist in the same micro-second to Him. Who is and isn’t in the Book has been there for all time and won’t be written until the pages are opened at the very end of time. I hope you like paradox, because that’s all I have to offer as far as the mystic visions of final judgment are concerned.

DespairBut one thing seems clear. Paul taught that there is a final judgment. So did Jesus. And all humanity stands within it for life or for death.

It isn’t just that one “decision for Christ” that you made once upon a time by answering an altar call or raising your hand at a camp meeting. It’s everything you’ve done since then.

No, you can’t buy your way into Heaven but you can throw it all away. Even the best of the best of us is utterly corrupt when compared to a completely and absolutely Holy God. Who are we to compare?

Rabbi Eleazer taught his disciples to repent every day (See b. Shabb. 153a). The later rabbinic teachings regarding the ten days of awe and the day of Atonement mention three categories of people,the completely righteous, the completely wicked, and the “in-betweens” (See b. Rosh Hash. 16b). The rabbis obviously believed that most people fall into the “in-between” category and need to repent. The house of Shammai taught, “There will be three groups at the Day of Judgment — one thoroughly righteous, and one thoroughly wicked, and of the intermediate” (See b. ibid 16b-17a). Therefore Bailey may be correct when he notes, “Christ’s subtle humor shows through in this verse. The ‘righteous’ who ‘need no repentance’ do not exist” (Kenneth E. Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal). Most people need to repent and maintain a living relationship with God in their cultivation of personal spirituality.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 10: The Search: The Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin,” pg 195
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

If we believe Christ died for us then we should live like it. We should all live like people who’ve been given a second chance, living on borrowed time or rather time purchased for us when we didn’t deserve it.

If you think you are saved, don’t expect that you can sit on your laurels and gather your rewards before judgment. You, I, and everyone else will be judged on what we have done, what we are doing, and what we haven’t even thought of doing yet.

Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation…

2 Peter 3:11-15 (NASB)

Yom Kippur prayersMaybe observing the high holidays wouldn’t be such a bad idea for Christians. Many of us are so unused to facing the idea of judgment let alone responding to it with fasting, with prayer, with repentance, with fear and trembling, with begging for the forgiveness of those we have harmed, of begging God for mercy, though we are all like grass. At least if you’re an observant Jew, you know you are accountable and that God expects you to take that seriously with your intention and your behavior.

If you see something that is broken, fix it.

If you cannot fix all of it, fix some of it.

But do not say there is nothing you can do. Because, if that were true, why would this broken thing have come into your world?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“If It’s Broken”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Addendum: I found out (thanks, Alfredo) after I wrote this review that Lancaster re-recorded the content for this topic on audio available on the web: The Final Judgment.

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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Initiation

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, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

On the subject of Baptism and Instructions regarding Immersions in Hebrews 6, we look at the evidence from early Christian documents. Find out how the second-century Christians welcomed new converts into the body of Messiah. This teaching contains quotations from Justin Martyr’s First Apology, from the Didache, and from the Apostolic Constitutions. The quotations are available in the PDF document below titled “Initiation Texts.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-three: Laying on of Hands
Originally presented on July 7, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This is one of the shorter sermons in the series (barely thirty minutes long) as well as a short chapter in Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles. In this sermon, Lancaster proposes to show how the basic foundational principles he has covered in previous sermons, particularly as mapped to the Didache, were carried forward in time to the second and even the third century CE, using classic Christian documents.

To review these first four principles covered so far:

  1. Repentance from dead works (sin)
  2. Faith toward God (through Messiah)
  3. Instruction about washings (elemental instructions of the faith prior to immersion in the name of Messiah)
  4. Laying on of hands (to confer discipleship and possibly the Holy Spirit)

Lancaster outlines the challenge in what he’s trying to do, since the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews felt the six principles were so basic that he didn’t bother to write them down. Neither did any of the other New Testament writers. Lancaster states that he believes Paul taught these principles orally, and that by the time the Hebrews writer was composing his letter, it was just assumed everyone knew all about this “milk”.

But we know nothing about them today since they weren’t written down in much detail, if at all.

Lancaster turns to three Christian documents to prove his point that these elemental principles were indeed carried forward in time with Christianity:

  1. Justin Martyr’s “First Apology”
  2. The Didache
  3. The Apostolic Constitutions

first apologyI’ve posted the link above to the relevant document, but here it is again. Click the link to open the PDF and you’ll find the list of documents and specific quotes Lancaster uses.

He uses these quotes to map back to the specific phrases in Hebrews 6:1-3 that list the six elementary principles.

Justin Martyr was writing around 150 CE and Lancaster paints a brief portrait of Martyr’s environment. The Bar Kochba rebellion ended in failure. Jerusalem has been destroyed, Herod’s Temple razed, and a pagan temple built on its ruins. The Jewish people have been exiled and in the midst of all that, the new religion Gentile Christianity and the original Jewish Messianic movement of “the Way” have just gone through a nasty divorce.

Martyr wrote his document, which we call “The First Apology” to the Roman Emperor as an appeal that the Empire stop persecuting Christians.

It’s Lancaster’s contention that these later Christian documents, especially the Didache, were based on much earlier writings and oral traditions going back to the second and even the first century, and perhaps even reflecting the teachings of the apostles.

Lancaster’s handout is organized as follows:

  1. Instructions before Immersion (Apostolic Constitutions 7.39.2-4)
  2. Preparing for Immersion (Justin Martyr, First Apology 61)
  3. Fasting Before Immersion (Didache 7:1-4)
  4. The Immersion (Justin Martyr, First Apology 61, Didache 7:1-3)
  5. The Investiture (Laying on of Hands) (Justin Martyr, First Apology 65)
  6. Prayer for the New Disciple (Apostolic Constitutions 8.6.5-8)
  7. Breaking the Fast (Justin Martyr, First Apology 65)

I won’t go into all of the details. You can read the PDF and listen to Lancaster’s sermon (only half an hour) for the details, but there are some questions.

What Did I Learn?

Lancaster has a talent for pulling together information and documents from (sometimes) widely disparate sources and then attempts to make them work together. To the degree that he’s comparing ancient Christian documents, I can see where he’s going, but Lancaster admits that these are documents originating in different time periods, so care should be taken in making very close comparisons.

messianic judaism for the nationsAlso, he states that the “nasty divorce” between Jesus-believing Jews and Gentile Christians had already occurred, and except for arguably the Didache, the other two documents Lancaster is using are from the Gentile side of the equation. Why is that important? Because Lancaster’s purpose in this investigation is to uncover the practices of ancient Messianic Judaism so we can practice this way, too.

But a lot of what he introduces isn’t from, strictly speaking, Jewish sources. These are interpretations made by Christian Gentiles who, after the aforementioned “nasty divorce,” have no reason to spread any sort of love for their Jesus-believing Jewish counterparts.

In fact, quoting Paul Meier from his recent Messiah Journal article which I reviewed:

Marcion’s contemporary Justin Martyr was one of the first to articulate a position of replacement theology, also known as displacement, transfer, or supersessionist theology. Avner Boskey succinctly described this theological stream as “an expression of Gentile triumphalism in the early church.”

-Meier, pg 81

I’m not saying Lancaster is wrong, and he’s certainly more studied and better educated in these matters than I am, but I don’t want to get too excited about drawing firm conclusions from a little bit of documentation and a lot of supposition.

That said, I don’t know if it would hurt to add some or a lot of this structure to modern Christian practice. Think about it. As you follow the train of Lancaster’s logic and observe the linear fashion by which an ancient novice disciple of the Master is initiated, educated, and baptized into the faith, becoming a Christian in the first and second centuries was a much more formal affair than it is in Evangelical Christianity today.

The initiate had to give a great deal of serious consideration to their decision to become a disciple, study quite a bit, deeply repent of their sins, dedicate themselves to a life-long pattern of righteousness, and be willing to take a solemn vow before God prior to baptism.

Can you say that all or even most professing Christians today take their faith that seriously and were that prepared even before baptism? How many Christians today came to faith simply by raising their hand at a Christian camp meeting or answering an altar call at church? Even after years or even decades, many Christians still may just be “going with the flow” and have never come to the realization of what they’ve committed to.

This is where I see Lancaster making his point very strongly. Today, we don’t even know much about what the writer of the Book of Hebrews took for granted to be the “milk”, the “baby food”, the six elemental principles of the faith. They were so basic and so well-known, that they were never documented, at least not in any text we have with us today.

Orthodox JewsLancaster’s point, as I understand it, is that we should return to the formal seriousness and dedicated preparedness of inducting novices into true discipleship, taking time to make sure that the person is ready to enter this tremendously august relationship, and only after all that, actually proceed forward, pressing “on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).

Lancaster is quite serious about rediscovering the ancient teachings and practices of Messianic Judaism as it existed in the first century and into the second, and that desire has merit, but is it do-able? All of the other ancient streams of Judaism from that era either were extinguished or progressed forward, morphing and evolving across the long centuries. What was Pharisaic Judaism in the days of Jesus and Paul is now called “Rabbinic Judaism,” although there are indeed multiple Judaisms in our day and age.

I guess I could say that Orthodox Judaism (although there is no single expression of Orthodox Judaism in modern times) is the most direct inheritor of ancient Pharisaic Judaism, but you many not be able to directly compare the two. So much has happened, the definition of practicing Judaism in Orthodox thought is quite different from how the Pharisees saw themselves.

Should we contrast modern Messianic Judaism with the ancient Jewish practice of “the Way” in the same manner? If “the Way” was most closely compared to the Pharisees in the first century, what does that say about the relationship between modern Orthodox Judaism and Messianic Judaism or what should it say?

I don’t know that Lancaster has set a completely achievable goal for himself and particularly for his (mostly Gentile) congregation. If he’s been lobbying for a mikvah to be built for the past several years but support hasn’t been overwhelming among his constituency, is that indicative of how difficult it is for we modern Gentiles coming out of our church experiences to fully embrace a strongly observant Jewish lifestyle?

I’m not trying to be a wet blanket, but even most of the Messianic Gentiles in Messianic Judaism may not be ready to take on board the full yoke of Torah, either as it was expressed in the days of Paul, or as we understand it in Orthodox Judaism today, assuming that is the model to be followed.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Instructions About Washings

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

Hebrews 6:1-2 (ESV)

Hebrews 6:1-3 identifies “instructions about washings” as one out of six fundamental, elementary teachings about the Messiah. Does this refer to Baptism? Learn about the Jewish practice of immersion in a mikvah and discover evidence of early, apostolic-era catechism prior to immersion.

Includes a short introduction to the Didache.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-one: Instructions About Washings
Originally presented on June 22, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Instructions about washings (plural). After a brief summary of the first two elementary principles, “Repentance from dead works” and “Faith toward God,” Lancaster continues with the third, “Instructions about washings”. This is often considered in normative Christianity to refer to baptism and easily dismissed as such. The King James Version of the Bible even renders the phrase as “the doctrine of baptisms,” but…

The translators of the English Standard Version, like many Bible scholars, recognized that the Greek word “baptismon” does not sound as if it’s talking about Christian baptism, because it appears in the plural form, whereas Christians are baptized only once. Furthermore, in other places in the New Testament, the word “baptismos” refers to ceremonial purification rituals of immersion in a mikvah. Several scholars looked at this passage and said, “I don’t think he’s talking about Christian baptism. I think he’s talking about Jewish purity rituals.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter 5: Instruction About Washings,” pg 64
Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity

This book leverages much of the material from Lancaster’s sermons on these elementary principles from his “Hebrews” series and is a good companion to use with these audio recordings.

Here we learn that it is highly likely that these “immersions” mentioned in Hebrews 6:2 do not reference the modern Christian concept of baptism, since a Christian is only baptized once and the Greek word used in the text is clearly plural. It is more likely that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is talking about Jewish ritual purity rites using the mikvah, since the writer (according to Lancaster) is a Jew writing to other Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua.

Lancaster presents some historical and archeological information regarding ancient immersion pools in the late Second Temple period to illustrate that it was extremely common for Jews to immerse on any number of occasions for the purpose of ritual purity, including participation in Temple sacrifices.

He also takes this opportunity to go on a small “rant” about how Christianity has fundamentally misunderstood the nature and character of baptism, and he ran through a litany of things that he believes the Church has gotten all wrong (he was talking too fast for me to take notes, so if you want to hear his reasons, you’ll have to listen to the recording). I don’t think Lancaster was trying to “diss” the Christian Church so much as he was being passionate about what he sees as the truth of the early history of Jesus-believing Judaism and how it’s been distorted by subsequent Gentile Christianity.

mikvahAs an aside, Lancaster has been lobbying to build a mikvah at Beth Immanuel for the last seven years (eight years as of this writing) but there hasn’t been much of a response. That reminded me of something I just read in Sue Fishkoff’s book The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch. Often, when a Chabad family moves into an area without an Orthodox Jewish presence, their first and overriding priority is to build a mikvah, particularly for the use of the Rabbitzin in relation to the laws of ritual family purity. The reaction from the local Jewish community to the Chabad’s fundraising efforts to build a mikvah (and they’re not cheap) is just as lukewarm. What does Lancaster and the Chabad know about the mikvah that the rest of us don’t, or is that a sad question to ask as connected to “elementary principles” of our faith?

So, what were these “instructions about immersions?” How to build a mikvah? The mechanics of how to baptize? At one point, Lancaster might have said “yes”, but then he realized how “dumb” an answer that was…a typical “Goy” answer.

Jews would have been already well acquainted with the rituals surrounding the mikvah, the occasions when one had to engage in ritual purity rites and so forth. This wasn’t a mystery. While Gentiles may have needed those sort of instructions, they would have been less than useless to the Jewish believers.

Lancaster shared his own revelation. When reading a commentary on this part of the Book of Hebrews, he learned that these instructions about immersions could be referred to as “Catechetical Instructions for Conducting the Baptismal Rite.”

When I was a pre-teen and into mid-teens, my parents regularly took me to a Lutheran church. Lutheran churches, like Catholic churches, put their young people into a two-year Confirmation class where we studied Catechism, which according to Wikipedia is “a summary or exposition of doctrine and served as a learning introduction to the Sacraments traditionally used in catechesis, or Christian religious teaching of children and adult converts.”

That’s what Lancaster thinks these “instructions about immersions” are. Not directions on how to immerse or baptize, but the very basic instructions a new believer had to know before being immersed in the name of the Messiah as a full disciple.

Lancaster than referenced the best known ancient “catechism” we have access to: the Didache.

Last fall, I read and wrote about First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) Toby Janicki’s article “The Didache: An Introduction” published in Messiah Journal. Since then, I purchased a copy of the Didache along with a commentary and wrote several blog posts on the topic which can be found here.

While Lancaster isn’t saying the Didache we have is the actual set of instructions being referred to in Hebrews 6:2, they may very well be related. It’s clear that the Didache was written for new Gentile “novices” in Yeshua-discipleship in order to prepare them to be immersed into Messiah by being initiated in the teachings of the Master. These instructions may have begun as oral instructions that accompanied the delivery of the Acts 15 “Jerusalem Letter” to the various Jesus-believing Gentile communities in the diaspora.

Didache CodexI should mention here that as Lancaster correctly states, the Didache’s initial discovery prompted accusations of forgery and fraud, since the document didn’t match the theology and doctrine of any Christian denomination and was seen as “too Jewish”. But today, most Christian scholars admit that the document most likely originated within one or two decades of the destruction of Herod’s Temple, written probably by Jewish disciples of Jesus for newly minted Gentile disciples. As I mentioned though, these written instructions could well have been preceded by an oral equivalent and could possibly have first come from the apostles themselves.

However, the Jewish disciples may have required a similar, parallel set of instructions to familiarize them with the teachings of Messiah and what it is to be a Jew preparing for a lifelong commitment to “take up their cross” and follow Moshiach, even unto death.

So look at it like this.

The newly initiated Jewish believers were first taught the very elementary principles of Yeshua-faith starting with repentance from dead works (sin) and then faith toward God as specific to Messianic devotion. Once they had mastered those first two principles, they were ready for the third, the basic instructions required for them to prepare to be immersed into the name of Messiah, which constitutes a vow of eternal fidelity.

Jewish people would immerse in the mikvah an untold number of times over the course of a lifetime, so immersing for ritualistic reasons was hardly novel. However, John specifically practiced an immersion of repentance (Matthew 4:17, Acts 19:4) and the Master commanded another specific immersion:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (emph. mine)

Matthew 28:19-20 (NASB)

The immersion in the name of Messiah fits in perfectly with what the Church calls “the Great Commission” but put back into a Jewish context, the ritual immersion in Messiah’s name makes a great deal more sense.

Jewish ConversionFor Lancaster, and I agree with him, a serious time of preparation must have been thought necessary before formally becoming a disciple of the Master. This was probably quite similar to the proselyte ritual process Gentiles experienced when converting under other Jewish sects. Even today, a Gentile converting to Judaism, particularly Orthodox Judaism, undergoes a time of intense preparation and study under the supervision of a Rabbi, and must past several tests before becoming circumcised (for males) and immersing in the mikvah as the final rite in becoming a Jew.

It seems very reasonable to believe that in ancient Yeshua-faith, the Gentile “converts” were required to undergo a similar procedure, although I’m sure there were exceptions (Acts 8:25-40, Acts 10:44-48).

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 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?

Luke 14:17-28 (NASB)

What Did I Learn?

Actually, I felt there were things Lancaster only hinted at in his sermon. If he believes the Christian Church has gotten baptism all wrong, particularly as far as only being baptized once, what other applications might there be for immersion among the body of believers? I’m sure that Messianic Jewish disciples of the Master could and would immerse for the same reasons as other observant Jews, but what about the “Messianic Gentiles?” If we immerse in the name of Messiah once, on what other occasions should Gentiles enter the mikvah?

It had never occurred to me to apply Matthew 28:19-20 to Hebrews 6:2 but now it makes a great deal of sense to connect the two scriptures. I’m sure an entire study could be done applying what we think of as “baptism” in Christianity to ancient and modern concepts of immersion in the mikvah.

This also made me think of my own immersion. In August 1999, my entire family was immersed, under the auspices of a local Hebrew Roots congregational leader, in the Boise River. The following month, my life started to dramatically fall apart in such a spectacular manner that it would take years for me and my family to recover.

My interpretation is that God takes immersion into the name of Messiah quite seriously, even if the people being immersed don’t know what they’re doing (and I certainly didn’t). God delivered the consequences of my ill-conceived decision directly into my lap and it wasn’t pleasant at all. A lot of re-writing of my script had to be done and it’s not finished yet, not by a long shot. The finger of God is still writing on my heart and slowly converting it from a thing of stone to a heart of beating flesh and blood.

How many churches prepare their people with a dedicated set of instructions and tutelage before determining they are ready for this level of life-long commitment? I know in the church I attend there is some sort of formal preparation, but I fear for the sake of the children, some age nine and younger, who are deemed ready to understand what it is to count the cost, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus, even unto death. How could you be nine years old and possibly comprehend who you’re vowing to obey and what the consequences will be?

child baptismLancaster says he believes our churches are filled with “false converts,” people, like me, who consent to being baptized without any real idea of what that truly means. We have very few formal vows in Christianity left. The one you most likely think of is the wedding vow, but the staggering divorce rate in the Church indicates even that one is not well understood.

When we consent to being immersed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit of God, we had better know what we’re doing, and if we haven’t been prepared adequately for the commitment, then even though we are acting out of ignorance, God will hold us accountable.

Lancaster believes we should return to instructing new believers in the elemental principles of our faith which might include some familiarity with the Didache or something patterned after it. I think he’s right. People declare Christ as Lord and Savior and are baptized in his name far too casually in our day. I think thousands upon thousands of people in the Church are in a lot of trouble and don’t even realize it.

Why No One Comes to the Father Except Through the Son

It is true that we do believe the same things about the same God and read the same Scriptures as those Jews who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. In Messianic Judaism, we are even part of the same religion. Despite all that common ground, there is one great difference between us. The difference is not in what we believe about God but how we believe about God.

Devout Jewish people who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah believe the same things about God that we believe, but they do not do so in the light of the revelation, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They believe outside the light of that transforming, from-faith-for-faith experience that Paul spoke of when he said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter 4: Faith Toward God,” pp 55-6
Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity

I read this book not long ago but decided not to review it since it leverages material from Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, including portions I haven’t listened to yet. I’ll probably intermix my comments on certain parts of the book in various blog posts as I come across the corresponding material in the audio series.

Except for this part. This part is special because it answers a question that has been bugging me for a long time, a question I haven’t been able to adequately answer until recently. I mentioned this question just the other day.

Prior to the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Torah laid out exactly what a Jew had to do to worship and relate to God within the context of the Sinai covenant. Yes, there were the sacrifices and the Temple rituals including the moadim (the appointed times or festivals), but Jews also had (and have) a day-by-day relationship and interaction with the God of Israel. Jews pray directly to Hashem. We see this all over the Bible and we see it in the modern lives of observant Jews.

And yet Christianity is telling Jewish people (and everyone else) that you can’t worship God directly anymore. It’s not possible. It’s not effective. You have to worship God by worshiping Jesus.

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one will come to the Father except by me.

John 14:6 (DHE Gospels)

That seems quite plain…and final. I have heard an interpretation that likens Yeshua (Jesus) to a door and once we enter through the doorway, we encounter the reason we entered the ekklesia of the Way, we encounter God the Father, the God of Israel.

But in many churches, this verse is used to make it seem as if Jesus replaced God the Father, as if God the Father retired and is sunning Himself on a beach in Florida while Jesus the Son is running the family business, and in a very different way than “Dad” ever did. But if God is unchanging across time and if Jesus doesn’t do anything except what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19, 30), then how can there be a discontinuity between Son and Father, between Messiah and God?

How can the Son replace the Father as the object of worship for the Covenant community, for Jews who are born into the Covenant and for Gentiles who are grafted in?

What did Jesus change when he inaugurated the New Covenant era at his death and resurrection? What does he bring to the table? How does he fit in to the plan of God as the New Covenant is beginning to unfold?

I know how the Church would answer, but the answer is full of supersessionism and replacement theology. Jesus came to replace the “ceremonial portions” of the Law (Torah). He came to replace behavioral obedience with grace and mercy. He came to release the Jews (and arguably, everyone else) from the Law so they could be free in his grace. For Jews, instead of going to the Judges and the Priests and the Temple and the Torah to get to God, you go through Jesus. He is now the gatekeeper, he holds all the keys, he guards all the doors. The Torah (or major sections of it including just about everything that defines a Jew as a Jew) has gone “bye-bye” and Jesus is large and in charge and is here to stay.

Except that makes absolutely no sense.

two sistersFirst of all, I previously said that there is abundant evidence that in ancient and modern Judaism, living a life of obedience to God’s mitzvot is a joy, not a horrible burden. Further, the Torah is a tree of life for all who cling to her. What could Jesus possibly add to all that to become such a game changer and yet still not violate all of the Torah and the Prophets, including the actual New Covenant language found principally in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36?

That’s where Lancaster’s commentary I quoted above comes in. In order to explain his point, he tells a parable. I’m going to include it here in its entirety because I think it clears things up a lot.

Remember, this is a parable, a metaphorical story:

Once, a man who had two daughters went off to war. Before he left, he promised to return to them, and he also promised them, “When I return, I will bring you each a fine string of pearls and a summer dress.” No one except the two girls knew about the promise. After many years, the man had not returned, and everyone presumed him dead. His daughters, however, continued to hope, believe, and wait. A decade passed, and they grew to become adult women, but neither of them forgot their father or his promises. Deep in their hearts, they continued to hope and to believe. One day a messenger came seeking the girls. Finding only one daughter, he told her, “I have news of your father. He is returning, and he sends you this gift.” The messenger presented her with a fine string of pearls.

Now both girls still believed in the promise of the father, but one had received a token of the promise, and the other had not. One had faith in the father’s promise on the basis of her hope and confidence in the father’s promise, but the other had faith in the father’s promise on the basis of the good news that she had already received and on the basis of the partial fulfillment of her father’s promise. She already had the pearls. She had no question in her mind that she would soon see her father face to face. Think of that girl’s confidence, certainty, and joy. She no longer had any doubt that her father was coming. She knew that he would bring the summer dress because she had already received the pearls.

-Lancaster, pg 56

The Father made a promise to the nation of Israel and to all Jewish people everywhere that He will return the exiles to their Land, defeat all of Israel’s enemies, and not just restore national Israel’s fortunes but elevate her to the head of all the nations of the Earth. Also is the promise of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life for the covenant people, as well as having the Torah written on human hearts rather than stone or paper so that human beings with the full indwelling of the Spirit will naturally obey all of God’s commandments, the conditions of the Sinai and New Covenants, the Torah. All of Israel’s sins will be forgiven. The world will be made completely peaceful, all people will be safe and secure, and a King from the line of Judah and the house of David will sit on the Throne in Jerusalem forever.

And Jewish people have been waiting ever since but so far, those promises haven’t been fulfilled…any of them…

…or have they?

Talmud Study by LamplightIt should be obvious that the two daughters are two branches of Judaism. The metaphor actually doesn’t work completely because the two daughters must initially be all Jewish people. Then one daughter received the gift sent by her father and believed a messenger. The messenger is Jesus. He is from the Father, from God. He brings a gift, something to confirm that God will fulfill His promises in due time. The messenger does not come to fulfill all the promises but in fulfilling some of them, he brings a guarantee that they will all ultimately come to pass.

But what promises did Jesus fulfill? Did he rebuild the Temple? Did he return all of the Jewish exiles to their land? Did he place Israel as the head of all nations? Is he sitting on the Throne in Jerusalem reigning with justice and peace?

No. He didn’t do any of those things…yet.

How do we know he’ll do any of them at all? Because he brought a gift. Actually, more than one.

He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven you.” Those reclining with him began to say in their hearts, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in shalom.”

Luke 7:48-50 (DHE Gospels)

Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here; for he has risen. Remember what he had spoken to you while he was still in the Galil, saying, “For the son of man must be handed over to sinful men and be crucified, but on the third day he will surely rise.”

Luke 24:5-6 (DHE Gospels)

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 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)

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?”

Acts 10:44-47 (NASB)

And that’s not even the entire list. Jesus the messenger from Heaven, brought several “gifts” with him, a sort of down-payment on the promises of God, an illustration and evidence that God will someday do all that He promised. Here’s what Messiah demonstrated:

  • The forgiveness of sins through faith.
  • The resurrection from the dead.
  • The giving of the Holy Spirit.

These weren’t the “full meal deal,” so to speak, but only an appetizer. Jesus forgave the sins of those who had faith as an illustration of how someday all of Israel’s sins will be forgiven. Jesus died and was resurrected as a confirmation that someday there will be a general resurrection of the dead (see Matthew 27:52-53). The Holy Spirit was given first to the Jews who believed, and then later to believing Gentiles also, to show that one day the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28).

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Ephesians 1:10-14 (NASB)

Jesus, the messenger, comes as a pledge of our full inheritance as believers, first to the Jew but also to the Gentile, that God will redeem His own and fulfill His Word.

a woman of valorThe metaphor Lancaster used, as I mentioned, doesn’t exactly fit. One daughter has to choose to believe in the messenger, that he really is from their father, and that the gift he brings is genuine and can be accepted by faith as from their father as a promise that he will come and bring his other gift.

One daughter would choose to believe the evidence of the gift and the other wouldn’t. In Lancaster’s parable, this draws a distinction between Jesus-believing Jews and all other Jews, but we can also apply it (since the rest of the world has the potential to be grafted in) to believing and unbelieving Gentiles.

Based on everything I’ve just said, Jesus is now cast in an almost completely different role. Instead of being a replacement for the old, worn out, obsolete Law, he’s the bringer of “better promises” (Hebrews 8:6), not that the previous promises were bad, but as good as things were, God has something even better in mind, something that builds on what happened and what was given before rather than replacing it. It’s as if God is saying, “If you think the Torah is the Tree of Life, you haven’t seen anything yet. Don’t believe me? Here’s a small sample of what is to come.”

Jesus has been called the capstone (Matthew 21:42), the one key object in the structure that completes it and holds it all together. Without that stone, not only would the whole structure remain incomplete, it might actually fall apart.

So, in his first coming as Yeshua ben Yosef, Messiah came as the messenger from Heaven bringing gifts as a guarantee that all God had promised would be fulfilled. And he did this without replacing anything at all. In fact, if he had replaced anything previously promised or established by God, then Jesus would have failed in his mission to bring the Good News to Israel. When properly interpreted and understood, the teachings of Jesus and those of the apostles, including Paul, show us that Jesus brought exceedingly Good News to Israel and also to the Gentiles, that God intends to do great good to Israel and as one of the results of His actions, even the Gentiles will receive blessings.

Unfortunately, when the Gentiles split off from the Jesus-believing Jewish ekklesia to form their (our) own religion called “Christianity,” they “reinterpreted” the ancient Holy Scriptures as well as the teachings of Jesus and the apostles to make it seem as if the Good News was only good for Gentiles. The Christian “good news” was only good for Jews who were willing to give up the original promises of God (and give up being Jewish), for Jesus brought those “new” promises, according to the Christian Church, to replace the old.

That’s when the craziness, the bizarre disconnect occurred between different parts of the inspired, “God-breathed” Word of scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). That’s when the two sisters drifted apart, but the hope and the promise is that someday their father will return to reunite them as a family.

Have I proved my case? Will non-believing Jews read this and be convinced?

Probably not.

First of all, my commentary on the role of Jesus and all that he did is hardly comprehensive. A detailed and scholarly analysis would certainly reveal much, much more. No doubt there will be people who will never be convinced and who would even be insulted at my efforts (not that it is my intension to insult anyone).

But I’m trying to show both Jews and Christians that the way they are looking at the Bible and looking at Jesus isn’t really how the Good News was originally presented. The original Jewish Good News didn’t require an evangelical approach that says Jews are “cursed” or that they’re “hypocrites”. Sadly, the Christian Church is its own worst enemy, not even by intent, but by continuing to accept a flawed interpretation of the Gospel that was forged with the early “Church Fathers” and cemented by the men of the Reformation.

The Jewish PaulWithout a strong and sustained effort by mainstream Christianity to set aside their traditions and to look at the Bible, and particularly Jesus and Paul, with fresh eyes that take into account that Israel is the entire focus of God’s Good News and blessings, we Christians will continue to be a curse upon Israel and the Jewish people, and as a result, only a fraction of Gentile believers, a remnant so to speak, will continue to bless Israel, to elevate Israel, and to await the return of the messenger who will be King.

What curses await all those others who perpetually, even without meaning to or desiring to, set aside the centrality of Israel and the place of honor at God’s table for the inheritors of Sinai, the Jews?

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 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 (DHE Gospels)

I beg those Christians reading this to take my message seriously, because this isn’t just me popping off and being difficult to live with, this is your life and your relationship with God.

A person should always be flexible like a reed, and not rigid like a cedar.

-Taanis 20a

Yesterday was the newest holiday on Israel’s calendar, Jerusalem Day or Yom Yerushalayim. Jerusalem is where the Temple was and will be again. Jerusalem is where he was condemned to die. Jerusalem is where he will one day return as triumphant King and be enthroned in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The ekklesia, the body of his devout ones, who believed the promises, who held tightly to the gifts in faith, who realized that Jesus was and is a vital messenger in the plan of God for Israel and for the nations, will be there celebrating with joy. But part of the foretaste, the sample that Jesus brought is that we can experience a little joy right now.

Many who observe a proper Shabbat have joy in the day of rest as a preview of the future perpetual peace on the Earth. Shavuot is less than a week away and for those who choose to observe the festival in some manner, that too is joy, for we celebrate the giving of the Torah and also of the Spirit. Even now, there are Jews and Gentiles who call themselves Messianic and who share a common vision of who we are and what the future holds.

In the Messianic Kingdom, there will be Israel and the nations, the Jewish people and also the Gentiles who are called by His Name. We will be many peoples but we will have one King and one God. Jesus came first to bring the Good News that God’s promises will be fulfilled and he brought gifts as proof. By faith, we continue to believe in the message and the messenger. By faith, we continue to wait. By faith we experience joy.

Someday all of the promises will be fulfilled and we will have joy in His Presence forever.

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”

-Karl Barth, Swiss theologian

Be grateful. Be joyful. We have received the Good News. The King is coming.

Next week’s review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon Faith Toward God will speak more on this topic.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Evangelical Gospel

Introduction to the Six Elementary Teachings of Messiah with a look at Evangelicalism and the Evangelical Gospel, citing Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Seventeen: The Evangelical Gospel
Originally presented on May 25, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3

As Lancaster began talking about Shavuot, about Pentecost, about what the Evangelical Church calls “the birthday of the Church,” I wondered where his lectures on the Book of Hebrews went. I knew that he was going to spend some time on the six basic foundations of the faith, but I didn’t know this would entail exiting the Epistle to the Hebrews altogether.

He did quote the following Psalm, which is a Psalm about Shavuot, however:

The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng…

Psalm 68:11 (NIV)

No, that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Hebrews either, but we’ll get to that.

Lancaster spent a lot of time talking about, really reviewing Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel. This sermon was given right after First Fruits of Zion’s 2013 Shavuot conference (although that link takes you to info about this year’s conference). It’s always held at Lancaster’s home congregation, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship.

I attended the conference in 2013 and also went the previous year. I didn’t spend a lot of “face time” with Lancaster, usually because he’s pretty busy and in demand, but last year we talked for a bit and he recommended McKnight’s book. I formally reviewed the book as well as mentioned it elsewhere, and found it reassuring if not illuminating.

Like Lancaster, I didn’t agree with everything McKnight said, but it was refreshing to read an Evangelical teacher and author saying that Evangelical Christianity is serving up a hopelessly truncated gospel message.

I’ll skip over Lancaster’s history of the Evangelical Church but I will mention that Lancaster started out his ministry as an Evangelical Pastor and he’s the son of an Evangelical Pastor.

But as a teenager, Lancaster said he got so frustrated with trying to find the Evangelical Gospel message spoken by Jesus in the scriptures, that he threw his Bible across the room.

Here’s a summary of the Gospel message according to, not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but according to Evangelicalism.

Imagine Jesus saying this:

Believe in me for the forgiveness of your sins so you can go to Heaven when you die.

Jesus never saidThat’s the Evangelical message of the Gospel in a nutshell but Jesus never said it…ever. For that matter, neither did Paul, Peter, James, or any of the other apostles.

In fact, Jesus rarely spoke of personal salvation and when he did, the teenage Lancaster thought it sounded…legalistic:

And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

Matthew 19:16-22 (NASB)

The traditional Evangelical interpretation is that Jesus was playing a little game with this fellow to help him realize that he needed to leave his wealth behind and learn to trust Jesus, but I don’t see how the fellow in question could come to that conclusion when Jesus was speaking of the commandments and merit, a very Jewish message.

But the Evangelical message of the plan of salvation, although it’s some part of the Gospel message, is not only a small part of that overall good news, it’s terrifically misleading. It only teaches that you have to confess Jesus as Savior and believe in him. That’s it. In fact, Lancaster says Evangelicals shouldn’t really be called Evangelicals but rather “Salvationists” because of the narrow focus of their message.

They’re not even replacement theologists but rather displacement theologists, because the plan of personal salvation, as the length, breadth, and depth of their doctrine, displaces all of the Old Testament, the resurrection, a literal Israel, and the establishment of the Kingdom of Messiah on Earth. Why would you need an Earthly Kingdom if you go to Heaven when you die to be with Jesus?

What was the central message of the Messiah?

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 (NASB)

Gates of HeavenThe NIV and other translations use the word “near” rather than “at hand.” The Kingdom of God is near. How near is it? Lancaster says it’s so near that the Messiah has even been named. He’s Jesus of Nazareth. He’s teaching repent of your sins, return to God, be immersed in the name of Messiah for the forgiveness of sins (after you fully repent), then you will participate in the building of the Kingdom, the restoration of national Israel, the return of the Jewish exiles to their Land, the raising of Israel as the head of all the nations.

Lancaster spoke too quickly for me to capture all of his points, but at the end, he said Peter’s message in Acts 2:37-42 is a much better representation of the actual Biblical Gospel message than what Evangelicals preach.

And at the culmination of the Kingdom, all of humanity, each and every individual, will stand before the throne of judgment. The Evangelical message of salvation is only included in bits and pieces of the total Gospel, and it’s still an anti-Jewish people and anti-Judaism message if only because it wholly denies the centrality of Israel and the Jewish people in its own salvational plan.

It gets worse. Jesus preached:

And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

Luke 13:23-24 (NASB)

This is not what Evangelicals preach about salvation. For example, how can you “strive to enter the narrow door,” when there’s nothing you can do to merit salvation? Evangelicals say to “accept” and “make a decision for Christ” which are quite passive. Striving is active and implies you must do something to enter the narrow gate. Also, how can the gate be so narrow if whole stadiums and auditoriums of people are “getting saved” by some big name evangelist preacher at a huge revival?

milkThat last part is a little tongue-in-cheek, but you get the idea. Jesus didn’t teach that the Gospel message or even the salvational part of it was “believe in me and be saved.” He taught, “repent, have faith, become a disciple, for there will be a resurrection of the dead, and the living and the resurrected will participate in final redemption.” Lancaster says the actual Gospel message isn’t news to Messianic Judaism but it must be quite a shock to most of the world’s 100 million Evangelical believers. Most Evangelicals don’t even know about the “milk” being taught in the Bible, let alone the “meat,” and this is where we re-engage the Book of Hebrews.

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity…

Hebrews 6:1 (NASB)

Lancaster ended here a few weeks ago and this is the place where we have come to again. This is also the heart of Lancaster’s new book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Early Jewish Christianity, which is available as a special promotion (sorry to sound like a commercial, but it’s a pretty good deal) until June 3rd.

Lancaster wound down his sermon with another summary of the six foundations of the faith and said starting next week, he’s going into each of them in detail, with repentance being the very first step.

What Did I Learn?

As I mentioned, I’ve read and reviewed McKnight’s book last year, so this was more like a review than a revelation. I’ve also been going through my own study of repentance or teshuvah, so his comments on repentance operated in parallel to my own thoughts.

I don’t think that all Evangelicals have quite such a narrow view of the message of the Gospel, but I agree that even the most enlightened Evangelical is missing at least part of the picture. I know Evangelical Christians who strongly preach repentance of sins and who even lament there are many people in the pews on Sunday, who in all probability, are not saved because all they know is to passively believe.

I don’t doubt that some and hopefully many Evangelicals are indeed saved and are faithfully serving God, but it’s not my place to say who is and who isn’t. It’s my place first and foremost to care for my own relationship with God, for without love of God how can I love my fellow human being in the manner my Master commands?

Elementary PrinciplesLancaster doesn’t recommend McKnight’s book to his congregation, probably because he believes they are more tuned in to the actual message of the Gospel because of their involvement in Messianic Judaism (and being consumers of Lancaster’s prolific teachings and writings). I do recommend McKnight’s book to Evangelical Christians as a means of understanding that what Lancaster is teaching isn’t “Evangelical bashing,” but rather a startling wake up call.

Do you really want to know what Jesus taught as the good news of Christ? You may not get the full message from your Pastor’s sermons or from popular books by Christian authors. You probably won’t even get it in Sunday school or at a Wednesday night Bible study. If you read McKnight’s book, please open your mind and heart and be prepared for a shock. If you survive the book intact and want to learn more, continue with Lancaster’s book and see where that takes you.