Tag Archives: gifts of the spirit

Gifts of the Spirit in Balance

Carl KinbarMany years ago — it seems as if it was another lifetime — I was a Jewish Christian attending a very large charismatic conference. In the midst of literally thousands of worshiping men and women, I stood that day enraptured with the presence of God. Then, bowed by his majesty, I prostrated myself on the floor as the singing continued. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I did not look up. After a few moments, a man spoke these words to me: “You will feed on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” I waited for more, but that was it. “You will feed on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” When I finally glanced over my shoulder, the man was already walking away.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar
“For the Common Good,” pg 19
Gifts of the Spirit

I really didn’t want to review this book chapter by chapter, but sometimes I have difficulty distancing myself far enough from a creative work to take it all in. Each chapter, such as this presentation by Rabbi Kinbar, packs in a great deal of information that is hard to ignore or dilute.

I remember Carl saying those words (the quote above) when I attended the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot Conference “Gifts of the Spirit” last May at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. I was taking notes as fast as I could and probably got some things wrong in what he and the other presenters said, which is why I’m grateful for this book.

I’m also grateful for this book because it arrived after my multiple commentaries on Pastor John MacArthur’s own conference addressing “gifts of the spirit,” which he called Strange Fire (thanks to the liveblogging of Pastor Tim Challies I was able to sample each presentation without wading through days of audio recordings).

I’ll try not to review each chapter of the “Gifts” book, especially as it would fly in the face of my previously stated intent to blog less often, but we’ll see what happens.

Going back to the above-quoted comment of Rabbi Kinbar with which he opened his “For the Common Good” presentation, Carl had no idea what had happened after his unusual encounter so many years ago, or what “the inheritance of your father Jacob” meant. Carl supposed the unknown speaker knew he was Jewish and chose the phrase “father Jacob” from that knowledge.

Ultimately, Carl learned that “the inheritance of your father Jacob” references Isaiah 58 and the various fasts. It also has “something to do with the land of Israel, the vision of Jacob’s ladder, and what God had promised to Jacob and his descendants.” (Kinbar, pg 20)

A few sentences later, Carl referred to the words he heard from that mysterious gentleman as a “prophesy.” As it turns out, the usage of that word seems appropriate.

Since I’m filtering “Gifts of the Spirit” through “Strange Fire,” I suppose I should mention that referring to the experience as a “prophesy” would no doubt make the “Strange Fire” folks a little uncomfortable. I didn’t think much of it at the time when I was listening to Carl at the conference, but I too must admit to always being at least a little skeptical about supernatural occurrences intruding on “real life”.

Nevertheless, Carl is one of the most theologically grounded and realistic people I know (and also a kind and gentle person). He’s the one who is likely to email me or comment on my blog when he thinks I’ve gone too far in making a connection between midrash and scripture. He’s never impressed me as someone who leads with his feelings at the expense of his intellect, and I consider him highly intelligent, very well-educated, and certainly well read. Hardly someone who experiences God on a purely visceral level.

I’m reminded of a rather interesting (though minor) experience of my own in church some months ago. I was sitting in Sunday school class waiting for the socializing to die down and the actual teaching to begin. I was feeling gloomy and discouraged. My presence in church wasn’t what I thought it would be and I was pondering how long I would last before someone would suggest I leave for “heretical” beliefs (such as the idea that the Torah mitzvot continues to be in force for all believing and unbelieving Jewish people) or that I’d just stop going.

Then a woman who I had never seen before approached me, smiled, and said “Shalom Aleichem.” I was momentarily startled by this greeting in such a Christian context. I assumed she knew my wife was Jewish and chose her words accordingly. After chatting with her for a few minutes, I asked why she had greeted me that way. As it turns out, she had no idea my wife was Jewish and couldn’t really articulate why she said “Shalom Aleichem.”

I was grateful anyway, and it did brighten my mood. It seems God knows who and what to send into your life at certain necessary points. Not quite what Carl experienced, which ultimately led him into Messianic Jewish studies and practice, but it will do.

In going over this chapter, I was taken with how Carl, who had spent the better part of forty years as a Jewish Christian in a Charismatic church, characterized the experience. He said they emphasized “worship and teaching” and I didn’t get the idea that anyone checked their brains at the door as they entered.

Charismatic prayerCarl said later in his presentation, that he didn’t believe that the gifts of the spirit were the same now as in the days of Paul, due to the change in purpose and context. He even admitted that there were times when he felt that some “spiritual healings” were not really on the up and up. He did also say that he has witnessed at least one authentic spiritual healing. On that occasion, he so inspired by the event that he kept the crutches of the healed woman (as she no longer needed them) in his office.

I got to thinking about one of the criticisms of the Charismatic movement by MacArthur and company was that these “gifts” were not consistent, while in the Bible, they never seemed to fail or to work only intermittently.

Except that’s not quite true:

When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.” And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”

Matthew 17:14-20 (NASB)

It seems sufficient faith is required of the one attempting to exercise a spiritual gift and possibly the one who is the recipient. I don’t think such a thing can be reduced to a formula and in any event, the source of such gifts is God and if healing, casting out demons, or whatever, is not in His plan or for His glory, He will not empower the individuals involved with such gifts. I should say that while I can’t discount the existence and workings of the Holy Spirit as He empowers individual human beings on certain occasions, I consider them rare and I believe many of us can go though our entire lives and not demonstrate any such gifts.

For that matter, in the New Testament, and particularly in the Gospels, demon-possessed people seemed to be extremely common, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen one. If demon possession continues to exist in our world, then it must be as rare as dramatic spiritual gifts.

In my previous commentary on the “Gifts of the Spirit” book, I said that Boaz Michael described Torah and the Spirit as completely inseparable. Carl, in his presentation, linked Christ crucified, the Spirit, and the Torah together.

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:2 (NASB)

Paul was a well-educated man in the tradition of the Pharisees, so it’s unlike him to go into a situation armed with only the knowledge of “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” yet, according to Carl, this is the crux of the matter for all of us. If we don’t fully apprehend why Jesus had to die as a sinless man, and then be resurrected, giving us all the promise of eternal life, then our faith is in vain (see my review of the FFOZ TV series episode Resurrection for details).

According to Carl, Spiritual gifts, particularly verbal gifts, are to impart wisdom. After all, we cannot understand the Word of God, the Bible, at all apart from the help of the Spirit of God. This was one of the reasons, perhaps one of the most important ones, why Messiah had to depart from us.

“But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

John 16:5-14 (NASB)

We have the Spirit with us as a helper, speaking not on his own behest but only the words from God, and it seems that Messiah’s intent was that the Spirit would continue to help us until his return (or perhaps even beyond that).

MysteryAnd the Spirit is supposed to impart wisdom about the Word for the purpose of drawing us nearer to God, not just as individuals (for Carl’s own experience was personal) but for the common good of the body of Messiah.

That’s why I can’t see the “gifts of the spirit” being authentic if they in any way distract us from God and who He is as well as Messiah, and him crucified. If spiritual gifts lead in a different direction, then they can’t be from the Spirit of God, which may account for some of the abuses attributed to the Charismatic movement.

Carl cited Isaiah 53:4-6 as a strong description of the knowledge of a crucified Messiah, which the Spirit points to, as well as this:

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

1 Corinthians 2:10-13 (NASB)

Let’s look at part of that again:

…for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?

Trying to visualize the Spirit of God searching the depths of God borders on the mystic. What does it mean except that the Spirit of God acts as a portal to all knowledge of God, not that human beings could access even the tiniest fraction of that infinite storehouse. The Spirit of God is the gateway into spiritual thought for people. Without that gateway, we would be locked outside in the secular world, with no way to know God or to even believe He exists.

Paul’s reason for emphasizing the verbal gifts was not that he thought healing and miracles are unimportant…

In 1 Corinthians, chapter 2, “wisdom” words appear nine times and “knowledge” words five times…

-Kinbar, pp 27 and 28

Paul was a scholar and a teacher. For him, spiritual gifts were God’s means to illuminate people with the knowledge of God and the crucified Christ, not to put on some sort of “magic show” or to elevate the possessors of said-gifts to some exalted status. If the manifestation of the Spirit does not reveal God, the Messiah, and the Word of God, then it is not from God, for that is the purpose (in my own opinion) of the Spirit in our world today.

Carl quoted the following to show the connection between Messiah and the Spirit, substituting “HaShem” for “the Lord”:

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of [HaShem] will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of [HaShem].
And He will delight in the fear of the [HaShem].

Isaiah 11:1-3 (NASB)

The connection between the Torah and wisdom can be found in these verses:

See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as HaShem my God commanded me, so that you should do them in the land which you are entering to possess it. So guard them and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statues and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

Deuteronomy 4:5-6 (Kinbar’s translation)

Carl goes on to say that the “relationship between the Spirit of God and the Torah is seen even more vividly in Ezekiel 36, in which God promises to bring back the exiles of Israel to their land:”

For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:24-26 (NASB)

That one threw me a little, since Ezekiel is describing a situation that has yet to occur, but it does serve to remind us that we cannot bifurcate the Spirit of God from anything else about God, such as Himself, His Word, and the Messiah.

While the Torah, Messiah, and the Spirit can be spoken about separately at times, they cannot be separated in reality. When Paul wrote about the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, he did not mention the Torah because of the specific circumstances in Corinth, but neither did he nor God ever intend for Torah to be left out of the picture permanently.

-Kinbar, pg 36

It’s difficult for me to compress Carl’s points in this blog post and still trace the path of logic adequately so if you think something’s been left out, I encourage you to get a copy of Gifts of the Spirit and read the entire article.

Carl did say one more thing I want to point out.

But the traditional charismatic framework is not adequate for a fully Messianic Jewish expression of the gifts of the Spirit.

-ibid

Carl, and the other presenters at the “Gifts of the Spirit” conference, by necessity, must refactor the charismatic movement and that understanding of the “gifts of the spirit” into a form that is more appropriate for a Jewish and Messianic Jewish context.

A Promise of What is to ComeI’ve mentioned before, citing the FFOZ TV series A Promise of What is to Come, that by viewing scripture including the New Testament writings through a Messianic Jewish lens, we can capture a perspective that has been lost to the Church since the days of the apostles. This includes an understanding of the process of the Holy Spirit, how He worked in the past and how He is working today.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m something of a skeptic. Except for a few minor, transitory experiences, I can’t say that I’ve witnessed a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit, and certainly not “spiritual gifts” in or around my own personal world of faith. Like I said, if they exist, they must be pretty rare or poorly advertised. I also think that enough charlatans have exploited the fertile spiritual soil so as to make the rest of us feel that anyone who claims “miraculous gifts” must be a rip-off artist.

It makes it difficult for me and people like me to listen objectively when someone talks about what they experience as an authentic spiritual occurrence.

Does the Holy Spirit work in our world today? Absolutely, otherwise, no one would come to faith and the Bible would seem like foolishness to all of us. Who was that man who touched Carl Kinbar on the shoulder so many years ago, and spoke of Carl’s feeding “on the inheritance of your father Jacob”? A prophet? An angel? I have no idea.

I do know, and I’ve said this before, that the FFOZ Book “Gifts of the Spirit” offers us an opportunity to read a counterpoint to John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference and to see for ourselves the differing perspectives of dedicated and devout men and women, all of whom, in all their different religious “camps,” are seeking to know God and to balance our understanding of Creator, Spirit, Torah, and Messiah.

The Challies Chronicles: Conrad Mbewe and Pentecostal Witch Doctors

Conrad MbeweThe first session of the final day at the Strange Fire conference brought Conrad Mbewe back to the pulpit. Phil Johnson introduced him by sharing how others have called him the Spurgeon of Africa. Today he brought message entitled, “Are We Preachers or Witch Doctors?”

Mbewe then contrasts Paul’s exhortation in 2 Timothy with the present picture in Zambia. He shares two newspaper clippings from July concerning evangelical preachers. In the first, a clergyman impregnated 10 women before his wife came forward about the scandal. She came forward after witnessing the scourge on the children in this church and the presence of the witchcraft taking place. In the second clipping two clergy men took two women into the mountains and sexually assaulted them. They first visited their home and took prayer requests and then led them into the mountain.

Pastor Tim Challies liveblogging
Strange Fire Conference: Preachers or Witch Doctors?”
Challies.com

As Conrad Mbewe chronicles the abuses of Pastors against members of their flock in Zambia, no one could possibly disagree with having evangelical preachers who are sexually assaulting women being called out, removed from their positions of authority, and hopefully arrested and incarcerated. How could any believer of good conscience support preachers and other church leaders behaving in such a destructive manner?

But, of course, the inference is that the Pentecostal movement is driving such abuses and as a denomination, are responsible for this criminal behavior, and therefore Pentecostalism must be stopped. Can a connection between the events being reported by Mbewe and all Pentecostals everywhere be reasonably made?

Conrad asks, “How can this be happening so frequently among so called evangelical churches today?” His response: a seismic shift in how people view the pastor. What is read in 2 Timothy is not the popular view today. It is because of how the view of the “man of God” has evolved today. Pentecostalism’s visit to Africa did not primarily emphasize the preaching and teaching component of the “man of God.” Now the “man of God” is primarily seen as the deliverer. Preaching has lost emphasis. It has become motivational platitudes followed by shouting and chanting.

The same thing can be seen in America on popular TV channels, but with different colored skin and nicer buildings. There are biblical quotes tossed about followed by a demon possessed, crazy and maddened looking preacher.

Yet, the important part of any service is what happens next. The “man of God”, wrested out of the context of 2 Timothy, takes on the role equivalent to a witch doctor.

While Mbewe lays the blame for the abuses he reported above fully upon the Pentecostals and their lack of emphasis on scriptural sufficiency and preaching, others who commented on this Challies blog post didn’t agree:

There are certainly issues that need to be studied, analysed and discussed in the contemporary pentecostal movement in Africa and worldwide. We need to understand their theological and liturgical practices–their strengths, weakness, meanings and innovations. Scholars of contemporary pentecostal movement have been at it for more than two decades. It would be very helpful to dialogue with their findings and suggestions. One of their major findings is that contemporary pentecostal movements underline that their members must “make a complete break with the past,” that is, they must completely disassociate themselves with African Indigenous Religions (henceforth ATR)–contrary to Mbewe’s claims. Scholarly findings also associate its theology of prosperity, deliverance and breakthroughs with the neo-liberal economy of the globalization era. On the overall, I find Pastor Mbewe’s take on it simplistic, upsetting and misleading. Basically, he blames it all on ATR. In the process, his comparisons are misleading misrepresentations of ATR, that serves to demonize the latter. If indigenous healers were to be brought into this conversations, they would not recognize the picture that is painted about them. But since evangelicals are unlikely to want to hold such dialogue with indigenous healers, it is as that proverb warns us: until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero. The image given about Indigenous healers is of course colonial, as attested by Mbewe’s reference to indigenous healers as “witchdoctors.” Mbewe’s colonial perspective is also attested in his wish to call for the West to rescue Africa from itself. His two opening stories harp on the colonial stereotypes of Africa as sexually immoral. His reference to western medicine as conventional medicine is so telling. Since Christianity has existed side by side with ATR for more than two centuries, why is this only happening now? Why has ATR not confused the church before, until now? Both the contemporary pentecostal movement and the indigenous healers would be appalled by Mbewe potrait (sic) and interpretation of the phenomena. Mbewe’s approach is suspect and must be heard as such. Those who hear him will do well to hear him with a pinch of salt.

Musa Dube

I am a charismatic Pastor in East Africa. Sadly however, I can confirm that what is said here is quite true. Of course, I do not agree that this is a charismatic problem but rather an aberration that claims to be Christian and Charismatic but is in fact neither. It would be wrong however, to say that the problem is confined to “charismatic” churches.

This problem manifests itself in these pseudo churches as false miracles etc. etc. But in the churches more palatable to McArthur (sic) and others, it manifests itself in double lives that pay mere lip service to the theology of the church. Polygamy, tribal politics, regular visits to the witch doctor (the traditional kind rather than the Bible carrying one) all thrive in Calvinist churches across the continent of Africa. They are preached against in the pulpit of course but hey, everyone does it. In very high number of cases, even the Pastor does it because of course that is just for preaching

This is because the problem is not charismatic theology but syncretism and This is not confined to any one church as anyone who has lived in Africa knows.

We may be charismatic but we are working hard to preach against hypocrisy in all denominations. Our focus is upon the work of the cross which unites us and demands a response from us all.

Sean McIntyre

Witch huntOf course, the larger body of people commenting on the blog post expressed split opinions, but I think it’s important to understand that a simple comparison between what Mbewe reports and what all Charismatics represent cannot be made. Mbewe’s logic goes something like:

  1. Some Pentecostal-influenced preachers in Africa are sexually abusing women and practicing witchcraft.
  2. Therefore all Pentecostals, Pentecostal teachings and Pentecostal/Charismatic preachers everywhere support abusing women and practicing witchcraft.

I agree with Musa Dube to the degree that Mbewe’s presentation is rather two-dimensional and lacks sufficient depth to establish the point he’s trying to make. Also, we have a report that such abusive activities are not confined to churches with Pentecostal affiliation but are rather multi-denominational.

Again, I want to say that in no way can I or any reasonable person of faith support sexual abuse of women, whether by clergy or anyone else.

Mbewe was invited to a radio broadcast panel discussion in Zambia about miraculous healing. There was a Catholic trying to ride the fence. Then there were two charismatics invited. One could not come because he was sick. He lied. Conrad saw this man shopping in the mall with his wife directly afterward with a trolley of goods.

During the broadcast the other charismatic and Mbewe locked horns. He challenged listeners to call in if they had been healed. Like a New Testament Elijah he taunted the charismatics for an hour due to the lack of calls. Two calls came in. The first a man who attested to a girl with unequal legs being healed 8 years ago, a very stale testimony for a country that claims to have healing crusades from prophets, bishops and “the man of God” all the time. The second came from a woman who chastised Mbewe as a dead theologian. There were only two calls in a nation where miraculous gifts happen all the time. The charismatic pastor responded that the people are shy. Unfortunately a week later he suffered a stroke and died after being in a coma for a week. None of his friends came to his aid and raised him because they knew it was all a fraud and a lie.

While this is all very dramatic, and while it likely establishes that claims of a large number of miraculous healings taking place in Africa are false, it still doesn’t make the larger point in painting the entire Pentecostal church with the same broad and tainted brush.

I know Mbewe’s presentation is only one among many, and I know that “Strange Fire” is meant to be taken as an entire unit, but even putting Mbewe’s discussion in the context of the entire conference doesn’t make what he is saying any more applicable to the entire world of Pentecostal believers. I may not agree with the basic premises of Pentecostalism, but I don’t believe they are all abusive and criminal either.

OK, maybe I’m being a little harsh because Mbewe didn’t come out and indict the Pentecostal church in such a manner. He only said that any church that does not depend solely on scripture and its sufficiency in building and leading the body of Christ is ripe for an infusion of witchcraft, sexual abuse, and other demonic influences.

And speaking of demonic, I know I quoted this above, but of everything Mbewe said, it especially drew my attention:

The same thing can be seen in America on popular TV channels, but with different colored skin and nicer buildings. There are biblical quotes tossed about followed by a demon possessed, crazy and maddened looking preacher. (emph. mine)

Although Mbewe called the preacher “maddened looking” as opposed to “maddened,” he declared that the preacher in his example (I don’t know if he was thinking of any TV preacher in particular or just throwing out generalizations) was “demon possessed” as opposed to something such as “like he was demonized.” As I’ve said before, I find it interesting that cessationists can say there are no longer any “gifts of the spirit” given to human beings, but that human beings can certainly be possessed by demons and exhibit strange and even supernatural behaviors. The equation doesn’t seem to balance out and gives the impression that evil forces have more influence than God.

But that’s just my personal observation.

Don’t worry. There’s only one presentation left, MacArthur’s final appeal, then Challies writes his own summary of the lessons he learned from the conference. After that, Challies writes two additional blog posts, both on MacArthur’s answers to his critics. I’ve briefly scanned those answers and MacArthur comes across as somewhat more reasonable than I found him and the others while presenting at the conference.

I know the conference was last October and it may seem as if I’m beating a dead horse, but these issues won’t go away just because a couple of months have passed. Beyond that, there’s the influence of MacArthur’s Strange Fire book (which I’d like to review, but I’m not willing to shell out cold, hard cash for the privilege) to consider.

doveThe topic is wearing on me too, which is why, in addition to Life of Pi, I’ve just started reading Gifts of the Spirit, which is a compilation of the presentations given at the First Fruits of Zion Gifts of the Spirit Conference held last Spring during Shavuot at the Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin.

I attended the conference and wrote numerous blog posts, including this one describing my experiences. However, all that was before MacArthur, “Strange Fire,” discussing MacArthur and “Strange Fire” with my Pastor, and my blogging on “Strange Fire,” so I need to even things out, so to speak, and revisit the spiritual side of the coin by reading “Gifts”.

So far in “Gifts,” I’ve learned (relearned) that a number of the presenters, including First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) staff, previously worshipped in and even grew up in the Pentecostal church. I look forward to going back to the “Gifts of the Spirit” and comparing that conference experience with the Challies Chronicles of “Strange Fire.”

Gifts of the Spirit: Pursuing the Mystery

MysteryLest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

Romans 11:25

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.

Ephesians 3:1-3

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 1:27

What is this “mystery” of which Paul speaks? In all three of my examples from scripture, it seems directly related to the Gentiles being brought into the Jewish movement of “the Way.”

(I have to say before going on that you’re probably going to think I’m a little crazy for writing this. I don’t have some big theological point to make and I’m not trying to convince you of anything. I just have this rattling around in my head and I need to put it out there. OK, that’s done. Continue reading).

I’ve been rather slow in my reading this past week for a variety of reasons, but I managed to squeeze in a chapter from John Sanford’s book Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John. In Chapter 3: Christian Disciples, the First Disciples – John 1:35-51, he says (pg 32):

The call to the disciples is a call to initiation into the mystery of Christ. The idea of initiation is all but lost in our present culture, but it was an important one in the time of the inception of Christianity, for in the Roman Empire at that time there flourished a burgeoning number of “mystery religions.” The Greek word translated in English as “mystery” did not mean to the ancient Greek-speaking person what it means to us. A mystery for us is a puzzle to be solved. A mysterion for the ancients was “a matter to the knowledge of which initiation is necessary.” There are some things that can be known only by experiencing them; all in-depth spiritual or psychological understanding falls into this category. For this reason the word mysterion (mystery) is very important in the New Testament.

That statement reminds me very much of the recent First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference which was held at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. The focus of the conference was Gifts of the Spirit and by definition, a spiritual encounter can only be perceived through a direct experience, and is certainly one that reveals something of God. Yet the receiving of the Holy Spirit by those who repent and turn toward God is something that can only be understood by the person receiving the Spirit (unlike in ancient days when outside observers could actually see “tongues of fire” descending upon those whom the Spirit encountered and rested upon).

It also reminded me of something that happened a week ago when I was having coffee with my friend Tom. I won’t tell you all of the details, but at one point, Tom was telling me how important it was to him to be able to communicate to others his unique personal message of encountering God. Tom closed his eyes and a change came over him. I can’t explain it except to say that it reminded me of this:

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3

I actually can’t find in the Bible where it says something like “and then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he spoke…” but that’s what it reminded me of. At the conference, some of the presenters were discussing the folks who stand up in church and say stuff like “And thus says the Lord” or “The Lord gave me a word of wisdom to speak…” and then they go on to say whatever it is that they think God told them to say.

But actually, the people who are really speaking “in the Spirit” don’t typically make a preamble statement, they just speak in the Spirit.

That’s what I think was going on with Tom.

OK, I can’t prove it and maybe he was just being very passionate at that moment. He certainly didn’t report anything unusual happening to him during our conversation. But that’s what it looked like. That’s what I experienced in listening to him. It was a mystery. It was an initiation of sorts into another perspective. As Sanford states in his book (pp 32-3), “this is, one who leads the initiate into a deeper revelation of himself and God.”

light-in-my-handsI don’t want to get too mysterious here and I certainly don’t want to give you the impression that I’m selling you some sort of spiritual bill of goods. I’m not claiming to have “gotten a word from the Lord” or anything like that. I’m just saying that there’s a point at which we encounter God that doesn’t translate well into human language. It isn’t easy to articulate. Nevertheless, it’s something I believe God shares with those He chooses as He wills.

These experiences are not random. They happen for a reason, though that reason isn’t always apparent.

The experiences that now came to the disciples in their association with Jesus were deeply meaningful and exciting. They had found the Master and they followed him happily, growing in consciousness and enthusiasm as they did so. But their full initiation was not complete. Before they could really truly know, deep within themselves, they would have to undergo two more crises even more painful than the first.

-Sanford, pg 36

For the Jewish disciples of the Master, they endured his death, rejoiced at his resurrection, watched him ascend into the Heavens, and then waited. But in Acts 2 we see that their wait had ended and something miraculous happened to them. They were initiated into the Spirit of God in order to fulfill the purpose of spreading the Gospel message to Israel, Samaria, and to the world beyond. The message of Spirit and salvation. The message of repenting and bringing near the Kingdom of Heaven.

Just looking at Peter when he denied the Master and then seeing him later, after Acts 2:2-4, we encounter a totally changed man.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Acts 2:36-39

Do you feel changed? Have you been “initiated into the mystery of Christ?” For that matter, do I feel changed?

Those who give priority to their physical selves and make the soul subordinate cannot achieve sincere brotherhood.

-Tanya, chapter 32

Rabbi Schneur Zalman states that a thorough unity is achieved between friends when their neshamos (souls) are permitted to fuse. Since all neshamos are part of God Himself, and inasmuch as God is the Absolute One, all souls can similarly be one. Separation and divisiveness among humans do not derive from the soul, but from the physical self.

The needs and desires of the physical self – the quest to satisfy one’s earthly drives – are the causes of divisiveness. The neshamah does not seek pride nor wealth, is not offended, and does not seek to berate others. All these are traits of the physical self. To the degree that one recognizes the neshamah as one’s true essence and subordinates the physical self thereto, to that degree one can eliminate the divisive factors and achieve true unity and brotherhood.

We thus see why spirituality is of such overwhelming importance. Hillel said that the essence of the Torah is “love your neighbor as you would yourself.” To achieve such love, one must eliminate the impediments to sincere love of another, and as Rabbi Schneur Zalman stated, these impediments are the non-spiritual aspects of life. The greater the degree of spirituality one achieves, the more perfect can one’s love of another person be.

Today I shall…

…seek to establish the primacy of spirituality in my life.

-Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Sivan 17”
Aish.com

paul-on-the-road-to-damascusParticularly in Judaism but also in Christianity, we can become very focused on studying. There’s nothing wrong with studying, with learning the Word of God, and in fact, as responsible believers, we have a duty to familiarize ourselves with the Bible and, to the limits of our abilities, to delve into its depths.

But it is going to take more than the capacities we have within ourselves, our “wetware” and programming, so to speak. In truly learning to know God we must start with the Bible, but we must continue in the Spirit. This isn’t something we can turn on and off like a light switch, and I think it’s pretty much up to God to initiate such a contact, but we have to be open to it.

True, in Acts 9, Paul was nowhere near desiring such an encounter when the Messiah came upon him in a light and a voice. Messiah “happened to” Paul whether Paul wanted him to or not.

But in our material world with our material problems and our material worries, it’s far too easy for us to put aside the spiritual reality of our relationship with God. I imagine that even some other believers reading this blog post will think I’m some sort of “religious nut” for talking about the Spirit of God. And yet, what else can I do? A.W. Tozer says that “I would emphasize this one committal, this one great volitional act which establishes the heart’s intention to gaze forever upon Jesus.” All we can do is look up, to gaze at Him, and like the apostles, we wait.

Messiah will one day walk among us again in our world, but his journey of return begins in the clouds.

This is the actual time of the “footsteps of Mashiach.” (The final age prior to Mashiach’s advent.) It is therefore imperative for every Jew to seek his fellow’s welfare – whether old or young – to inspire the other to teshuva (return), so that he will not fall out – G-d forbid – of the community of Israel who will shortly be privileged, with G-d’s help, to experience complete redemption.

“Today’s Day”
Monday, Sivan 18, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

As Rabbi Twerski might say, today I shall strive to be open to the mysterious movement of God’s Spirit in my life through love of Him and so that my love of my neighbor is more evident in the world.

Am I pursuing the mystery or is the mystery pursuing me?

This will be the last blog post where I’ll directly reference presentations from the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference. I’ve pretty much exhausted my notes, the ones I can still read, anyway. I may, from time to time, refer to the conference or some of the speakers or attendees again, but not in any depth. I hope you enjoyed what I shared from my experiences. I sincerely meant to present my own point of view about the conference and do not represent First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) in any way. At some point FFOZ will no doubt produce an audio CD of the presentations given at the conference. I encourage you to acquire a copy if my renditions of the events there has piqued your interest.

The road

Was it something I said or something I did
Did my words not come out right

-Lyrics by Bret Michaels
Every Rose Has Its Thorn (1988)
Recorded by Poison

The Road is long and often, we travel in the dark.

115 days.

Gifts of the Spirit: Building God’s Dwelling Place, Part 2

tabernacle-sea-caveAnd Moses finished setting up the Tent of Meeting.

Exodus 40:33

…no place on earth is devoid of the Shechinah. Rabbi Joshua of Sikhnin said in the name of Rabbi Levi, What is the Tabernacle compared with? With a cave situated on the edge of the sea. When the sea rises and floods it, the cave is filled by the sea, yet the sea is not diminished. Likewise, the Tabernacle was filled with the radiance of the Shechinah.

-Pesikta Derab Kahana 1.3

If you haven’t done so already, please read Part 1 of this “meditation” before continuing here. This is a continuation of my commentary on the teaching “For God’s Dwelling Place” presented at the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship by Rabbi Carl Kinbar.

Yesterday, I suggested that there is no inconsistency between the Spirit of God dwelling within each of us as disciples of the Jewish Messiah and God dwelling among His people Israel in the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Holy Jerusalem. That’s not exactly traditional thinking for most Christians, and at least in the western world, we tend to think in terms of “either/or” rather than “why not both.”

But to borrow a little “rabbinic language,” to what can the dwelling place of God be compared?

Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.

Hebrews 3:5-6 (NRSV)

The end of the Book of Exodus records Moses finishing the work of setting up the Tabernacle and then the Divine Presence covering and filling the Mishkan. Moses was faithful in the construction of a dwelling place for God among His people Israel as God’s servant. But there is one who is more than a servant. He is a son. How much more faithful is the son over the house of the father than the servant?

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:4-5

Reading Hebrews and Peter’s first letter gives the impression of an “either-or” situation. Either God dwells in a Temple of stone or He dwells in a Temple of flesh and blood, with a flesh and blood Son being the cornerstone of the “structure.” But is this necessarily true in a permanent sense? It is true that there is no Temple in Jerusalem today, and it is true that the Spirit dwells within each of God’s people, that we come together as “living stones” and united, we form a “Temple” of God, the body of Messiah.

And it is true that today we offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Messiah.

The sacrifices God desires are a broken spirit; a heart broken and humbled, O God, You will not despise.

Psalm 51:19 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Not too long ago, I wrote about what it is to be broken in heart and in spirit before God and among other heartbroken people. These were the sacrifices we offered to God at Shavuot and His Spirit filled the synagogue in Hudson, Wisconsin during the days of the festival.

There is no Temple sacrifice that atones for murder and adultery, both of which David was guilty of, except on Yom Kippur. He must have known this when he wrote his famous Psalm. But what is the state of the heart of one who approaches God in abject humility on Yom Kippur? Is not every Jew heartbroken, contrite, and humbled? Are these not the sacrifices we make to God with our lives as we turn away from our sins and turn to Him begging for forgiveness?

Rescue me from blood-guilt, O God, God of my salvation, let my tongue sing joyously of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips that my mouth may declare Your praise.

Psalm 51:16-17 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

David seems to paint a portrait that is completely appropriate for the disciple of Jesus in the world today. No stone Temple is required when we turn to God and offer spiritual sacrifices of the heart. But then, David says something that doesn’t fit into the Christian template.

Then You will desire the offerings of righteousness, burnt-offering, and whole offering; then will bulls go up upon Your altar.

Psalm 51:21 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

The Jewish disciples of Messiah in the days of the apostles would have had no problem with Temple sacrifices, and it is said that under certain conditions, even the God-fearing Gentiles could offer sacrifices at the Temple through the Priests. It is only today, and especially with no House of God standing on the Temple Mount that Gentile Christians balk at the thought of “bulls going up upon God’s altar.”

jerusalem_templeAnd yet we know that there will be a physical Temple in Jerusalem again, and we know that each of the nations who went up against (who will go up against) Jerusalem in the final days, will be commanded to send representatives to Jerusalem for Sukkot each year (Zechariah 14:16). True celebration of Sukkot in the days when there is a Temple in Jerusalem require that sacrifices be made in the Temple (Leviticus 23:33-43).

In the days of the Temple, will the sacrifices of the heart no longer be required? Hardly. Read Psalm 51 again. Once our hearts and spirits are broken before God as spiritual sacrifices, then will the offerings of bulls be accepted upon the Temple altar.

And God will once again dwell among His nation Israel and in the hearts of His devout ones, first the Jew and also the Gentile who is called by His Name.

But let’s take a closer look at what’s happening now.

So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:17-22 (NRSV)

Notice that we Gentiles who were far off were brought near and united as members of God’s household through the Spirit and not by the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews. Rabbi Kinbar says that the phrase referring to Gentiles “who were far off” literally describes being “outside the house” in Greek. He also said, according to my notes, that the reference to “house” both means “house” as a structure and also the process of “building the house.”

Gentiles are brought near to Israel, bringing us inside the house, but we also join Israel in the process of building the house of God with Messiah as the cornerstone. Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master are all part of a single household; a holy Temple of God. Jesus is the house and the house is also in him. Jesus is pre-eminent and pre-dominant in the house.

For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.

1 Corinthians 3:9-10 (NRSV)

However, Rabbi Kinbar suggests that we should be careful what materials we use to lay upon the foundation stones of the house. A quick look at the condition of “the church” today, at least in the United States, suggests that many Christians aren’t using the finest materials for the construction job. In fact, sad to say, many churches are using sub-standard materials, flimsy and faulty wood, stone, and tools. Precious stones were used in the construction of the Jerusalem Temple. Should we use anything less in the Temple where we are the stones?

Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church…So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church…What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

1 Corinthians 14:4, 12, 26 (NRSV)

These are all images of building up the house of God as members of the house, the body, the community of faith. We build with our spiritual gifts, we build with prayer, with hope, with love, with faith. 1 Corinthians 12:11 says that we are all one by the same Spirit but each one of us individually has specific gifts. We’re not all alike. We each have something unique to contribute, just as Bezalel and Oholiab and “every skillful one to whom the Lord had given skill” had unique talents they used in making the elements of the Tabernacle (Exodus 36:1-3).

I’ve said previously that we are a work in progress as a body of faith. God has not yet written his Torah on our hearts, nor have our hearts been fully transformed from stone to blood-pumping hot flesh. We still cry out to one another, “Know God!” (see Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8; 10).

Receiving the SpiritRabbi Kinbar finished his presentation by stating something I consider remarkable about our “living house.” God is actually living in the dwelling place we are constructing while it is still in the process of being built. This is completely unlike His dwelling in the Tabernacle and later, the Temple, because those projects had to be fully completed before the Divine Presence filled them. For He lives within us as we are still measuring and hammering and raising wooden beams and laying precious foundation stones.

The plans for the Tabernacle and the Temple were exquisitely precise and each and every piece of stone and wood was of the finest quality, constructed by exceptionally skilled craftsmen. Not so God’s living house today. We stumble half blind to draw and redraw the blueprints, reach for any tool handy, and much of the time, employ shoddy workmanship and poor materials in our efforts. And yet God is tolerant of us and what we’re doing. He continues to live among us and to live in us as we build and rebuild ourselves as believers, striving forward, falling back, but never taking our gaze from the soul of our Master.

The dwelling place of God is past, present and future all at once. Just imagine when the house if finally complete, when the imperfections have been burned away like dross, leaving only a precious and perfect product. When that day comes, then our King will be evident in the house, and he will be one and His Name one. And God will dwell within us as the Presence dwells in the Jerusalem Temple. And Messiah will walk among His people again.

But He’s also in His house now, and we are here too, united in His Spirit as His Spirit unites us.

“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”

Troy Mitchell

119 days.

Gifts of the Spirit: Building God’s Dwelling Place, Part 1

creation2And there was evening and morning: one day.

Genesis 1;5

R. Samuel b. Ammi said: From the beginning of the world’s creation the Holy One, blessed be He, longed to enter into partnership with human beings… When did the Holy One, blessed be He, compensate them [those below for not partnering with them at that time] there? At the erection of the Tabernacle, as it says, “And he that presented his offering the first day” (Num. 7:12), meaning, the first of the world’s creation, for God said, “It is as though on that day I created My world.”

-Genesis Rabbah 3.9

Rabbi Carl Kinbar’s notes for his teaching “For God’s Dwelling Place” presented at the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin begin this way. It’s really a two-part lesson that Rabbi Kinbar managed to offer to us in a single session on Shabbat (I’ll write it as a “two-parter” presenting the second part tomorrow).

You may be put off by the Talmudic references and I’ve been avoiding them until now, knowing how Christian audiences sometimes react to the teachings of the Rabbinic sages. On the other hand, it is sometimes helpful to access Jewish commentary on the Word of God and the Spirit of God in order to re-insert what we are learning back into it’s “natural Jewish habitat” (as D.T. Lancaster puts it).

But what does the act of creating the world and building the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert have to do with “gifts of the spirit?”

Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Exodus 24:15-18 (NRSV)

Rabbi Kinbar told a story about how this verse was once taught in a class. One woman in the class responded that it must have been incredibly boring for Moses to sit up on that mountain for forty days and forty nights with nothing to do.

When I heard him describe this woman’s comment I immediately thought, “Sure, if he were alone!” Rabbi Kinbar kindly suggested to his class, “Let’s assume that God is exactly as the Bible describes Him.” Apparently, it doesn’t occur to some folks to take the Bible at face value and to believe God is as He is described in the pages of His own Word.

But let’s “assume” that He is and that at Eden, He desired to dwell among people. In Exodus, He desires to dwell among His people.

I will meet with the Israelites there, and it shall be sanctified by my glory; I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate, to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God.

Exodus 29:43-46

But it’s more than just God living in the human world. God wants something special from people, something that He doesn’t want from any other portion of creation. He wants to be partners with us. He want us to work with Him, not just for Him. He wants more than servants, He wants sons and daughters to help in building His dwelling place; building the Kingdom of God.

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

Luke 17:20-21

looking-at-heavenWe tend to think of the “Kingdom” as either Heaven or the future Messianic era, but Jesus is talking about it in the present tense: “…the kingdom of God is among you.” When he says it’s near, he doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right around the corner or that it’s coming soon, he means that as we pursue our partnership with God and perform the mitzvot necessary to help repair our broken world, we are drawing nearer to the Kingdom, we are building little bits and pieces of the Kingdom every time we perform an act of kindness, charity, or justice.

I don’t mean that God just wants to “dwell” with us in some abstract or metaphoric sense.

Moses did everything just as the Lord had commanded him. In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was set up. Moses set up the tabernacle; he laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars; and he spread the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent over it; as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Exodus 40:16-19

As far as I know, there’s nothing in the Hebrew text that suggests Moses had help when he built the Mishkan for the first time and Midrash states that Moses built the entire structure single-handedly. Moses “partnered” with God in constructing God’s dwelling place. All of the Children of Israel who either directly participated in making the elements of the Mishkan or who donated funds and materials for the work “partnered” with God in constructing God’s dwelling place among them.

And when the Divine Presence descended upon the Mishkan so that even Moses was unable to enter the tent of meeting (Exodus 40:34-38), it was possible for the first time to make offerings to God directly in His presence and God dwelt among His people Israel. In fact, it was not possible to make sacrifices to God unless the Divine Presence was in the Mishkan. And this, according to the Sages, was God’s compensation for the lack of human participation in the creation of the world; allowing human participation in the construction of God’s Mishkan and God dwelling directly within Israel and her legions.

In the Garden, God comes down to human beings. At Sinai, when God gives the Torah, God comes down to human beings. And when the last element of the Tabernacle was constructed, God comes down to human beings.

And God came down to human beings in the form of a human being, not in the totality of all that God is (for the Divine Presence is not the totality of all that God is, for even the earth is His footstool, see Isaiah 66:1, Acts 7:49) but God came down to us and dwelt among us as living, breathing flesh.

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

John 3:13

Most Christians have a difficult time understanding what the Temple means to the Jewish people. Most Christians don’t understand what the big deal is about Jews praying at the Kotel (Western Wall, Wailing Wall). Most Christians don’t get the importance of Exodus 40 because they (we) believe that now that we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God lives in us more than ever, and who needs the Temple anyway?

We do.

The two aren’t mutually exclusive. I mentioned in a previous blog post about the conference, that the Holy Spirit has always been moving among humanity and particularly among Israel. The Spirit didn’t show up for the first time in Acts 2. If we can say there’s any sort of difference between the time of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Apostolic Era, it was that the Spirit did not previously dwell upon literally every man and woman in Israel, but after the first Shavuot post-ascension, the Spirit does dwell upon each person who has come to faith in God.

Two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in camp; yet the spirit rested upon them — they were among those recorded, but they had not gone out to the Tent — and they spoke in ecstasy in the camp. A youth ran out and told Moses, saying, “Eldad and Medad are acting the prophet in the camp!” And Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ attendant from his youth, spoke up and said, “My lord Moses, restrain them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you wrought up on my account? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!” Moses then reentered the camp together with the elders of Israel.

Numbers 11:26-30 (JPS Tanakh)

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!” Wow.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Acts 2:1-4

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.

Acts 10:44-46

Wish granted, Moses.

jewish-temple-messiahAnd even beyond that, there will still be a Third Temple in the Messianic Age, and it is in the Temple that Messiah will be enthroned as King over all.

And it will be God’s House and He will dwell among humanity again.

It’s not an either-or proposition. We can have both. We can build both in partnership with God. But we in the church must never forget that our “connectedness” to God is wholly dependent on Israel’s “connectedness” to God. We are made partners through Israel’s partnership with God.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Once more they shall use these words in the land of Judah and in its towns when I restore their fortunes:

“The Lord bless you, O abode of righteousness, O holy hill!”

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name:
If this fixed order were ever to cease
from my presence, says the Lord,
then also the offspring of Israel would cease
to be a nation before me forever.

Jeremiah 31:23, 34-36

This set of verses is meaningful in at least two ways. It teaches us that we are not “there” yet. It was quite obvious to me as I was sitting in a conference listening to a Rabbi teach me about God’s partnership with humanity that I still needed to be taught about God. Teachers were still saying “Know the Lord.” We are still in the process of building. God’s finger is still in the process of writing His Word on our hearts, of turning our hearts from stone to warm and beating flesh.

The other thing it teaches is that Israel will not cease to be a nation before God as long as there is a Sun by day and a Moon by night, as long as the waves of the sea continue to come to the shore. Only when this “fixed order” stops will the offspring of Israel stop being a nation before God.

Israel by design and the people of the nations who are called by the Lord’s Name by being grafted in have a job to do. We must continue to build God’s dwelling place among us. How do we do that? By obeying the will of God for our lives, by loving God with all of our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves. By feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, comforting the grieving. By studying His Word, by living the life that God has provided for us in accordance with His wishes. By loving and by humility.

praying-at-the-kotelThe generation of Israelites in the desert weren’t circumcised. The consequence of not obeying the commandment of the brit milah is to be cut off from among the people. This is a serious consequence. Why didn’t God cut off that entire generation that came out of Egypt?

According to Rabbi Kinbar, it was because of God’s love and humility. We don’t often think of God as being humble, but we do know that even Moses was considered the most humble of all men (Numbers 12:3). Maybe Moses, as a “disciple” of God, was imitating his Master.

I want to mention two more items before I end my “meditation” for this morning. Remember the woman Rabbi Kinbar told us about, the one who thought spending forty days and forty nights on the mountain with God would be boring? Another woman responded to her after Rabbi Kinbar suggested we could accept what the Bible tells us about God at face value. The second woman said she heard from God. It was just after her husband died and she was feeling intensely grief-stricken. The woman didn’t say what God told her, but the implication was that His presence was very comforting and very real…and not boring at all.

The last thing I want to say is that Rabbi Kinbar suggested something I hadn’t considered before. Is the Birkat Kohenim (the Priestly Blessing) a blessing for the Messianic Era?

May the LORD bless you and guard you – יְבָרֶכְךָ יהוה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you – יָאֵר יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace – יִשָּׂא יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

I’ll pick up Rabbi Kinbar’s lesson in Part 2 tomorrow.

120 days.

Gifts of the Spirit Poured Out On All Flesh

Pouring waterAnd it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Joel 2:28-29, 32

“I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.”

That’s a pretty exciting statement when taken at face value, and it filled in a gap in my understanding of how non-Jews are supposed to fit into the New Covenant God made (is making, will make) with Israel.

I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to follow the threads from the covenant God made with Noah, to the one He made with Abraham, to the one He made with Isaac, to the one He made with Jacob, to the one He made with Moses and the Children of Israel, to the New Covenant language recorded in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, to the language of Messiah in Luke 22:14-23, and so on.

Classic replacement theology in Christianity has historically made the New Covenant fit but it must grossly misread the text in order to accomplish its goal. Instead of replacing Israel with “the church,” God has renewed and amplified His covenants with Israel in the New Covenant language and is in the process of or is yet to actually write the Torah upon the heart of Israel and to redeem her to Himself.

Only Messiah’s declaration faintly hints that somehow the Gentiles might be involved as well, and I’ve had to satisfy myself with that “slender thread” using more than a little faith and hope, because it’s not all that clear in the Bible just how Gentiles are attached to God through Israel. Oh, we have plenty of evidence that we are. Paul made considerable effort to engage Gentiles and to bring them into the faith after his encounter with Messiah in Acts 9. Then there’s Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and his entire Gentile household and the astonishing event of all those non-Jews actually receiving the Holy Spirit, just as the Jews had in Acts 2, which completely blew the socks off Peter and his Jewish companions (no, they didn’t really wear socks).

But let’s back up a step.

I’m referencing a presentation given by Toby Janicki at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. The name of his teaching was Spirit on all Flesh, and it was one of the few presentations when I addressed the speaker (Toby) afterward with both a question and a thank you.

One of the things Toby established was that there was a movement of the Spirit prior to Acts 2. It’s hard to believe anyone could not know that since the Spirit is all over the Tanakh (Old Testament), but I guess some Christians have a rather myopic view of the Bible. After all, whose Spirit was it that was hovering over the waters? (Genesis 1:2) In Acts 2:2-3, a sound like a mighty rushing wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.

tape-over-mouthIt is further said that after the Spirit rested on them, each of the apostles could speak foreign languages that they did not know. This ability allowed them to be united with many other Jews from the various nations in the diaspora. But if language can unite, where do we see it breaking unity?

Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

Genesis 11:7-9

According to the beginning of this chapter, the “whole earth had one language,” and they used this ability to unite in arrogance against God. God confused their languages into, according to midrash, the seventy languages among the nations, and thus was scattered mankind.

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

Exodus 20:18-21

The word of God was pronounced on Mount Sinai in seventy languages (Shab. 88a; Ex. R. v.; comp. Acts ii. 5). The Torah was written in seventy languages in order that the nations should not be able to plead ignorance as their excuse for rejecting it (Tosef., Soṭah, viii.). Among the seventy languages the most noble is Hebrew, for in it was pronounced the creative word of God (Gen. R. xviii., xxxi.; Yalḳ., Gen. 52). The Jewish law required that every member of the Sanhedrin should have sufficient knowledge of the seventy languages to be able to do without an interpreter (Sanh. 17a; comp. Meg. 73b; Men. 65a).

“The Seventy Nations and Languages”
JewishEncyclopedia.com

It is said in midrash that seventy tongues of fire issued forth from the mountain and that the people could actually see the sound of God’s voice, and it was as if God had spoken the Torah in all seventy languages in a single utterance. And that God had spoken in the languages of all the nations of the earth because the Torah was given to all mankind.

Hebrew FireIf you couple this imagery with Acts 2 and then with Acts 10, you can see God reversing what he did in Genesis 11 providing a source of unity rather than division.

But it’s not as if the Spirit never encountered non-Israelites prior to Acts 10. In Toby’s presentation, he asked how Rahab (Joshua 2:16) knew that the Jewish spies could hide in the mountains and that their pursuers would stop looking for them after three days? Why not two, or four, or six? Midrash suggests that the Spirit rested upon Rahab and she prophesied. Certainly, the Gentile magician Baalam also had access to the Spirit, for he could even speak to God. In fact, Judaism considers that there were seven prophets among the Gentiles, although they were not as elevated as the prophets of Israel.

But when Peter and his companions saw the Spirit descending upon Cornelius and the Gentiles, they must have thought that the Messianic Age prophesied by Joel had come and indeed, that the Spirit had been poured out on “all flesh.” I don’t doubt that prior to that event, few if any Jews believed that a Gentile could receive the Spirit and thus forgiveness of sins.

For the Gentiles, who were once far off from Israel and the promises, had been brought near (Ephesians 2:13) by the blood of Christ and their faith in the Messiah, and the Gentiles too received the Spirit and forgiveness. Thus Jew and Gentile became one in Messiah (Galatians 3:28) upon receiving the Spirit, with both being included in the body of Jesus and both having a place in the life of the world to come by the Master’s merit.

Receiving the Spirit is a sign of repentance. Although Luke doesn’t record Cornelius making teshuvah, he must have in order for Peter to witness the Spirit resting upon the Gentiles in the Roman’s home. Once Peter related what he and the other Jewish witnesses saw, the Council of Apostles and the elders praised God (Acts 11:18) that He showed no distinction and gave the Spirit and forgiveness of sins to all who repented, both the Jews and the people of the nations. What a wonderful gift.

For me, Joel 2:28-32 is the necessary linkage between Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 and binding the New Covenant prophesies to Luke 22:14-23, Acts 2, Acts 10, and finally Acts 15. I know from various sources, including John W. Mauck’s book Paul On Trial: The Book Of Acts As A Defense Of Christianity, that it was always God’s plan to include the Gentiles in a relationship with Him through Messiah.

…that the church’s disruption of the social/religious status quo (allowing Gentiles to become full members of the faith without circumcision and observance of the Torah)…

When I put all this together with everything I’ve learned so far about the connection between the covenants and all the material I’ve gathered about the meaning of the Acts 15 declaration, the relevance of Gentiles as members of the Kingdom becomes increasingly clear.

creative-torahThe Jewish people have been the keepers of the Torah, the Shabbat, and the knowledge of One God for thousands of years, while the people of the nations were worshiping figures made of stone and wood. But it was always God’s plan to include us as equal members in the Kingdom of Heaven, and the unique purpose of the Messiah was to allow us to come along side the Jewish people as equal sharers of the Spirit of God and of salvation, in order to give glory and honor to the King of Israel, the Holy One of Heaven.

God indeed has united all of His people among Israel and the people of the nations who are called by His Name. Just as God is One, we are One in Spirit and in the Kingdom, the Jew first and then also the Gentile. The Kingdom isn’t here yet because the Torah has yet to be written on our hearts. Peace has not arrived. We continue to struggle. But now there is hope. Now there is a path for the rest of us to follow. May the Lord of Heaven grant us wisdom and grace so that we can help in repairing our broken world and straightening the now crooked road upon which the King will walk when he returns to Israel and his throne in Holy Jerusalem.

Thanks for the good news, Toby.

Addendum: This ties up the end of my “Jesus Covenant” series called Building My Model and the other parts that came before it.

121 days.