Tag Archives: gospel

Why Worshiping Alone Matters

For the past decade, “How Great Is Our God” has been one of the most popular worship songs in the United States.

The song’s success helped to make Chris Tomlin the world’s top worship leader, and turned his co-writer Ed Cash into one of the most sought-after Christian music producers in Nashville.

It also helped launch what former members are calling a cult.

-Bob Smietana, December 14, 2015
“I Am Called a Cult Leader. I Really Don’t Care”
Christianity Today

I recently heard a pastor of a large American church say matter-of-factly that the average person in his church attended one out of three Sundays. Sadly, he wasn’t saying it was a problem. He was simply making an observation.

It’s an observation that stands in stark contrast to the admonition in Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Bob Kauflin, December 15, 2015
“Why Church Isn’t Optional for Christians”
On Faith

You may be wondering what these two stories have to do with one another. The former (a very long but worthwhile article) describes what most of us would call a “cult,” a domineering religious community run by a single individual who allegedly demands absolute control over his followers’ lives, and the latter, espousing the value in believers regularly gathering with one another to worship God and for mutual edification.

Jolley
Photo: Christianity Today

I recently wrote about the good and the bad of religious community. Actually, that blog post was mainly about the bad. The first story about Wayne “Pops” Jolley, “a prosperity gospel preacher with a history of alleged spiritual and sexual abuse,” and sole owner/operator of The Gathering International, is much, much (allegedly) worse than the two Pastors I described in my previous write-up.

He’s (allegedly) a monster and, if the facts in the story are accurate, he should be in prison.

In reading that story, I found myself amazed that anyone would fall for Jolley’s lines and allow themselves to come under his control. The first “red alert” should go off for any Christian right here (on page 2 of the 10 page “Christianity Today” article):

Jolley’s followers are asked to make a lifelong covenant with him and God, where they pledge their obedience and financial support to him as their spiritual father. In exchange, he pledges to pass on God’s messages and blessings. (emph. mine)

Lifelong commitment to God I can understand, but lifelong commitment to obey and throw money at Jolley in exchange for him passing along what God has to say and His blessings to me? That’s outrageous.

There’s a popular meme I sometimes see on Facebook: “Jesus didn’t say ‘follow Christians’ He said ‘follow me’.”

You can click the link I posted above to read all about what “Christianity Today” has to say about Jolley and find out why he (allegedly) makes my skin crawl.

The flip side is the small article written by Bob Kauflin, and which probably leverages content from his book Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God.

The blurb on the book’s Amazon.com page says in part:

Nothing is more essential than knowing how to worship the God who created us. This book focuses readers on the essentials of God-honoring worship, combining biblical foundations with practical application in a way that works in the real world. The author, a pastor and noted songwriter, skillfully instructs pastors, musicians, and church leaders so that they can root their congregational worship in unchanging scriptural principles, not divisive cultural trends.

kauflin
Bob Kauflin from his twitter account

I especially took note of the line, “can root their congregational worship in unchanging scriptural principles…” True, a lot of churches are very “program” oriented and seem to be searching for ever more ways to make going to church “popular” if not a thrill-a-minute, but I react to the phrase “unchanging scriptural principles” as written by a Christian, the same way as I do to “sound doctrine”. What you believe the Bible says depends a great deal on your interpretive traditions rather than (necessarily) on objective analysis.

I know that probably sounds harsh, but then again, I’ve participated in the eisegesis wars more than once.

And while I don’t doubt that Kauflin is a good, sincere, devoted, and compassionate disciple of Jesus, he definitely is writing from a highly specific point of view; a very traditionally Evangelical Christian point of view.

You can read his eight reasons why Church attendance isn’t optional by clicking this link. I’ll present my responses here.

1. Jesus came to save a people, not random individuals.

Well, sort of. Jesus came (it’s a lot more complicated than a simple Christian understanding of the purpose of Christ relates) for the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24) to call them to repentance because of the “nearness” of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 4:17).

To expand on this a bit, he came at that place and that time to show Israel (the Jewish people) that God’s New Covenant promises (Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36) were indeed going to come true. He did this by being a living (and dying and then living again) example of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:13:17), the forgiveness of sins (Romans 11:25-27), and the resurrection (Colossians 1:18).

Bottom line, Jesus came to herald the emergence of the Messianic Kingdom into our world, dramatically unveiling the redemption of all of Israel. He didn’t so much talk about the rest of the world. Of course, post-ascension, he commissioned Paul with that task (Acts 9).

That means the reason Jesus came had little or nothing to do with going to church each week. That said, in late second Temple Israel, there were the moadim or the times when Israel was to gather in Jerusalem (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and so on), there were specific occasions for offering additional korban at the Temple, and Jews regularly prayed and studied at the Temple and at their local synagogues and study halls. Being a Jew was and is a corporate experience, and Paul did gather the Gentiles together to also worship as specific local groups.

2. We need to rehearse and be reminded of the gospel.

Christian Bible StudyI’d probably expand this to include regularly attending places where the Bible is preached and taught. I love a good sermon, although I have a tendency to write copious notes and then blog my reviews of them, and certainly there is a great advantage to attending Bible classes and being able to discuss views and insights on the scriptures, including the Gospels and other Apostolic Writings.

If I understand Kauflin correctly, he’s also recommending that believers come together to encourage each other to practice the good news by living out lives that reflect the teachings of our Rav and the promises that are sure to come.

3. God’s Word builds us together.

It seems like this is strongly related to item 2 if not just a rewording of the previous rationale for meeting regularly.

Maybe I’m missing something.

4. We were made to serve and care for one another.

I agree that we can serve each other in corporate gathering, but there are just tons and tons of other occasions and venues in which to do this, sometimes ones that are better than church. After all, how better to serve someone than to visit them when their ill in the hospital, when they’re depressed and alone in their homes, when they’re bereaved, and under many other circumstances? You don’t need to regularly meet in church to do this.

5. We become more aware of God’s presence.

I’d agree with this with the caveat that some people have a greater awareness of God when they are alone. Yes, I have felt the presence of God both in church and in the synagogue, but I have also felt it when praying alone, so church isn’t the only place you’ll find God. Sometimes you’ll find him in the most unlikely places.

temple of messiahAlso, I find Kauflin’s use of “the Church” being the “new temple in Jesus Christ” to be somewhat limited. We know that Messiah will re-build the actual, physical Temple in Jerusalem and re-establish worship there (Jeremiah 33:18), and Paul referring to the “body of believers” as a “temple,” is more or less metaphor, just as we are also referred to as individual bricks in that temple.

One does not replace the other. I think many Christians take poetic language and try to make it a literal thing in order to map to prevailing Church doctrine which historically, was created to remove the Jews and Judaism from any association with Rav Yeshua (I’m sure Kauflin isn’t deliberately “dissing” Jews and Judaism, merely teaching what he was taught).

We demonstrate our unity in the gospel.

This is basically correct, at least in principle. As I mentioned above, Judaism, both in Rav Yeshua’s day and now, has a strong corporate worship and study component (although today, the home is always the center of a Jews worship of and devotion to Hashem). As Jewish community defines its distinct covenant relationship with the Almighty, you can also say that Christian community defines the non-Jewish disciples of our Rav as those who, even as we are not named participants in the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:27), are nonetheless by God’s grace and mercy, granted many of the blessings of the New Covenant. We also have the promise of the forgiveness of sins, the indwelling of the Spirit, and the resurrection in the world to come.

However, I do object to the following:

Most of us instinctively (sinfully?) like to be with people who are a lot like us — people who like the same music, eat at the same restaurants, and shop at the same stores. But God is glorified when people who have no visible connection or similarity joyfully meet together week after week. They do it not because they’re all the same, but because the gospel has brought them together (Romans 15:5-7).

At least in my experience, Christians actively seek out churches that are composed of people who are just like them socially, politically, economically, “denominationally,” and in most other ways. It’s not like you could take 100 random Christians gathered from across the country, put them together in a building every Sunday, and have them automatically form a cohesive community of believers. Depending on their theology, doctrine, politics, and such, they’d probably split in a dozen different directions, and heaven help the poor Pastor who tries to preach to this eclectic bunch.

People choose churches in part because the majority of the members/attendees have many interests and perspectives in common.

synagogue interiorOf course, this isn’t just a Christian trait, it’s a human trait. In a municipality with a sufficiently large Jewish community, the following joke is applicable:

A [Jewish] man is rescued from a desert island after 20 years. The news media, amazed at this feat of survival, ask him to show them his home.

“How did you survive? How did you keep sane?” they ask him, as he shows them around the small island.

“I had my faith. My faith as a Jew kept me strong. Come.” He leads them to a small glen, where stands an opulent temple, made entirely from palm fronds, coconut shells and woven grass. The news cameras take pictures of everything – even a torah made from banana leaves and written in octopus ink. “This took me five years to complete.”

“Amazing! And what did you do for the next fifteen years?”

“Come with me.” He leads them around to the far side of the island. There, in a shady grove, is an even more beautiful temple. “This one took me twelve years to complete!”
“But sir” asks the reporter, “Why did you build two temples?”

“This is the temple I attend. That other place? Hah! I wouldn’t set foot in that other temple if you PAID me!”

-Wikipedia: Jewish Humour

Everybody has their ‘druthers.

7. We can share in the sacraments.

My opinion on the Lord’s Supper or Communion is conflicted at best (I’m being polite), and my thoughts on baptism or immersion is that it’s more appropriate and Biblically sustainable when done in a river or other flowing body of water or, if it needs to be conducted indoors, in a mikvah-like environment.

It might be more appropriate to say that Number 7 is to share common ceremonies and traditional praxis. For instance, with Christmas fast approaching, churches all over the U.S. and in other nations are gearing up for their big Christmas presentations and worship services.

christmas treeThere’s nothing wrong with this, but Christmas is a tradition, not a Biblical event. Yes, I am aware that the Rav’s birth is recorded in the Bible, but how the Church celebrates Christmas today, both in individual Christian homes and in corporate assembly, little resembles the scriptural record, nor do we see anything like a directive to actually observe or celebrate Christ’s birth.

8. We magnify God’s glory.

Corporate assembly to lift up our God and to give glory to His Name. I can’t object to this one.

Of course, Kauflin’s bio describes him as “a songwriter, worship pastor, and the director of worship development” (and you can find out even more about him at his blog), so it would seem corporate worship has a special place in his heart. He couldn’t do a lot of what he does without a church full of people.

Also, as I previously mentioned, he wrote a book on the topic, so he’s invested in promoting corporate practice.

Why am I posting a comparison between two widely different men and radically distinct worship venues?

In spite of what Kauflin said in his article, you can’t always find appropriate community just by popping into the first church you see as you’re driving down the street. Certainly doing so by going into Jolley’s group would (allegedly) be a recipe for disaster. There are some places that should never be called a “church”.

But even under more optimal circumstances, in places of worship truly devoted to Christ, it doesn’t mean you’re going to fit in. I can only imagine that Kauflin and I would have a “spirited conversation” if we got together and started talking about the Bible. I’ve already outlined in some detail how I see his reasons for going to church every Sunday to not always hold water.

Also, I’m kind of wary of famous Christians and their books because being a well-known Christian writer just means you’re communicating a popular message to the majority of Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, Charismatics, or whatever subculture of Christians to which the author belongs.

Which goes right back to what I said before about how Christians will tend to associate with other Christians with whom they have the most in common. I’m not sure how this would have initially played out when the Apostle Paul was “planting churches” in the diaspora, but it’s pretty evident today, at least in the western hemisphere.

I’m not entirely sure why I felt compelled to write all this. The world would go on just fine if I didn’t give expression to these thoughts. I’ve certainly got other things to occupy my time.

leaving churchI suppose I’m continuing to be a voice for the outliers, the ones who don’t quite fit in to a church…any church. While I find myself sometimes missing certain aspects of going to church (I said I loved a good sermon and I enjoy discussing/debating the Bible, though this almost always gets me in trouble), in addition to how my being a church-goer impacts my Jewish family, even after my two-year sojourn in a church, I never fit in, and both church and I decided to get a semi-amicable divorce.

Kauflin says worship matters. For some of us, it’ll have to matter alone. The alternative spans the range from awkward to ghastly.

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Messianic Evangelism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The comments section is now open.

The Ironic Good News of Galatians

Commentators sense the need to argue this point to varying degrees, although none finds it necessary to go to any great lengths. In other words, this conclusion is apparently self-evident. James Dunn’s approach is representative: “The fact that Paul uses the Christian technical term for ‘the gospel’ also is clear indication that those whom he was about to attack were also Christian missionaries. He calls their message ‘another gospel’ because it was significantly different from his own; but he calls it ‘gospel‘ because that was the term they no doubt also used in their capacity as missionaries like Paul.”

-Mark D. Nanos
“Chapter 10: Paul’s ‘Good News Of Christ’ Versus The Influencers’ ‘News Of Good,” pg 285
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

As I write this, I have just finished reading this book (I know, it took a long time) and I really do intend to review it as a unit rather than chapter-by-chapter as I’ve historically reviewed other books. However, gathering my notes together for a comprehensive review will take a little more time and I have a good reason for pulling Chapter 10 out of the stream and devoting special interest to this topic.

As Nanos points out in this chapter and more generally in his book, the issue of what exactly the “gospel of Paul” vs. the “gospel of the influencers” indicates is of great importance in understanding Paul’s letter to the Galatian assemblies as well as the identity of the influencers.

I’ve commented before about how the word “church” (ekklesia) has taken on a life of its own in modern Christianity when the most general use of the word in the time of Paul simply meant “assembly,” as in any group of people coming together for a common purpose. This does not deny that the “ekklesia of Messiah” isn’t something quite a bit more specific, but the twenty-first century technical term “church” seems to be used in a way that we may not be able to anachronistically retrofit back into the first century text.

And so it goes with the word “gospel” (I can’t reproduce the original Greek here as Nanos does in his book). If we believe, as modern normative Christianity does for the most part, that Paul’s use of the word “gospel” in Galatians and his other letters must always specifically mean “the good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” and can never mean any other kind of “good news,” then we (Christianity or at least Christian doctrine and scholarship) may again be guilty of employing anachronistic retrofitting to force modern Christian theology back, two-thousand years in time and halfway around the world, into Paul’s thoughts, intentions, and writing when it may not have been what he meant at all or at least not all of the time.

I am surprised that you are so quickly defecting from him who called you in [the] grace [of Christ] for a different good news, which is not another except [in the sense] that there are some who unsettle you and want to undermine the good news of Christ.

Galatians 1:6-7 (Nanos, pg 286)

In the original quote from the book, Nanos inserts the Greek text alongside the English words, which I’ve already indicated I am unable to duplicate here. But focusing on this bit of scripture, can the “good news” of the influencers be related to the “gospel message of Christ” and at the same time be “not another” and “different”? For that matter, what is Paul’s “good news” to the Gentiles and is it what we think of when we read our Bibles or listen to a message from a Pastor on Sunday morning?

Paul actually denies that this other “good news” should rightfully be considered “another.” Paul does not exactly say with F.F. Bruce that it is “no gospel,” but he gets thereby at the sense of Paul’s usage, for Paul does reverse himself in calling it that “which is not another…”

-ibid, pg 287

As I was reading this chapter, I was reminded of the First Fruits of Zion television series episode The Gospel Message which I reviewed last summer. According to the introduction to this episode:

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

Scot McKnight
Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight in his book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited also produces strong evidence that the way “the Church” commonly understands the term “gospel” today does not entirely (or even mostly, sometimes) fit its original and intended meaning. Moreover, the term “gospel” meaning “good news” can mean different kinds of “good news” depending on context.

The good news of Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of Paul’s life and work. But the issue for identifying the influencers and their relationship with Jesus Christ is whether Paul’s use of…must be limited to the lips of believers in Jesus or even to a declaration about Jesus in a formal sense that it has come to have in the Christian tradition, with the results then applied to exegesis of Gal 1:6-7, as the conclusions of the prevailing views assume…

Because gospel is and has been for a long time used as a uniquely Christian term, it is anachronistic for our investigation, having lost the more fluid sense of good news or announcement or message of good originally communicated, and its verbal cognate is further limited by the lack of an English verbal form of “gospel” (i.e., “to gospel”), thus the translation “announcing” or “proclaiming the gospel.”

-Nanos, pg 288-9

Mark Nanos
Mark Nanos

This suggestion is bound to offend some Christians, and it’s certainly not my intention to do so. It is my intention to use what Nanos presents in his book to “shake the establishment” so to speak, and investigate an aspect of the writings of Paul that I think has been long neglected, especially at the level of the local community church: reading Paul specifically within the intent and context of his letters and letting Paul tell us what he meant rather than letting centuries old Christian tradition tell Paul and us what he meant. While I can’t promise that Nanos’ viewpoint is 100% correct in all respects, I think his approach shows much promise and has the ability, if we let it, to shake Christianity out of its apathy regarding our understanding of the Bible, and getting us to see the scriptures in a way that has been abandoned since the death of the last apostle.

On page 290, Nanos defines the usage of the plural of the word we translate as “gospel” in the time period of Paul and how it functioned within the “imperial cult for the announcement of significant event concerning the divine ruler: birth, coming of age, enthronement, speeches, decrees, and actions are ‘glad tidings’ of happiness and peace…” He also presents this by way of illustration:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (emph. mine)

Isaiah 52:7 (NRSV)

We can start to see the Greek word we read in English as “gospel” or “good news” having a somewhat more diverse or expanded meaning beyond what we consider in the Church, but lest I cast Nanos in an uncomplimentary role or misrepresent him, he did also say the following:

It should be clear by now that I do not intend to suggest that the usage of…in its various forms for the message or proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ by Paul generally represented anything other than messianic eschatology, but at the same time I want to make it clear that this was not the only way in which it could be or was used by Paul or his Jewish or pagan contemporaries, to which I now turn.

-Nanos, pg 292

In other words, Nanos isn’t saying that “gospel” is never used by Paul to refer to “messianic eschatology”, only that Paul doesn’t always use the Greek word for “good news” in the same way. It isn’t a matter of either/or but depends on the immediate context of the message.

However…

That instance (2 Sam 4:10; 2 Kgdms 4:10 in LXX) also constituted an ironic twist on the double meaning of… (though in the plural): the messenger thought that he was “bringing” David “good news” … about the death of Saul, only to be killed, for the value of the news was perceived differently by David… (emph. mine)

-ibid

PaulThis brings up the point of how the difference in the good news of Paul vs. the good news of the influencers was intended. We know that Paul intended his good news to be good for the Gentile addressees of his letter, but what about the influencers (I’ll speak more about the identities of the addressees and influencers in my forthcoming general review of “Irony”)? On page 314, Nanos says that “it is not to say that the influencers did not regard their message as good news for these Gentiles. I think they did.” I’ll expand on this in my next review, but from the influencers’ point of view, as understood by Nanos, the Jewish influencers really did think they were doing the Gentile believers in Christ a big favor by “completing” their transition of identities from pagan worshiping goyim, to God-fearing Gentiles, and finally to fully integrated members into the Jewish community in which the Gentiles were then worshiping and participating through entry into the proselyte rite.

In other words, “good news” is in the eye of the beholder. While Paul may have referred to the message of the influencers as “good news” ironically and even sarcastically, Nanos maintains that the influencers were sincere in their intent to bring good to the Gentiles, not understanding or not wanting to understand that through Christ, the Gentiles would be equal co-participants in Messiah-devotion and worship of the God of Israel in a Jewish synagogue and community context.

But this flies in the face of how Nanos defines the following verse:

For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves…

Galatians 6:13 (NASB)

While many Christians understand that piece of scripture to be Paul’s accusation that the Jewish people who were trying to entice the Gentiles to convert and to “keep the Law” hypocritically did not observe the mitzvot themselves, Nanos says that Paul had one very specific Law in mind:

…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…

Leviticus 19:18 (NASB)

While the Jewish influencers in the Galatian synagogues may not have been aware that Yeshua of Nazareth cited this as one of the two greatest commandments (see Mark 12:31 for example), they would have been quite aware of the commandment in Torah. Nanos says that Paul accuses the influencers of not observing this specific mitzvot by ignoring what was actually in the best interests of their Gentile neighbors in Christ for the sake of the influencers’ own interests. Again, I’ll speak more on this at a later time, but I mention it now only to draw attention to the seemingly contradictory motivations of the influencers as presented in the Nanos book.

Moreover, the association of the declaration to Abraham of the promise of a son with the label good news continued in the rabbinic tradition on Genesis, though obviously with no association with Jesus: Gen 18:1-15; b. Baba Mesia 86b; Mekita, Pischa 14; cf. Fragment Targum to Gen 21:7 and Gen. Rabbah 50:2.

-Nanos, pg 294

A Jewish person recently commented on one of my blog posts how Christians have sometimes erroneously misinterpreted the sages to support their (our) stance that Yeshua is the Messiah and that the Messiah is Divine. Further, in one of my reviews of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, I stated that there is a very real danger in reading Talmud and interpreting Midrash written well after the Apostolic Era as if it existed in the same form during the time of the apostles. On the other hand, Nanos is presenting his argument by establishing the usage of the Greek word for “gospel” at the time of Paul first, and then projecting it forward in time rather than trying to make the future apply to the past.

It occurs to me now that without saying so explicitly, what Nanos does in “Irony” may also be (though I say this rather provisionally) what Lancaster is doing in his lectures. That still doesn’t excuse deliberately reading into the Rabbinic sages what they never intended relative to the identity of the Messiah (which is something I’ll need to write about someday), but I think it’s valid to establish a method of reading the Apostolic scriptures “Jewishly” and then looking forward in time through Jewish literature at how that perspective has been maintained or evolved across history.

Another important aspect of Paul’s application of the broader semantic field of…comes to the front when we consider his usage of this language with regard to the figure of Abraham. Paul appeals to “the good news proclaimed beforehand…” to Abraham (i.e., before his circumcision). The content of this good news was that “In you shall all nations be blessed” (3:8). This good news was obviously proclaimed before Jesus or any message could be directly attributed to him or his followers…

-ibid

Certainly the scripture in the above-referenced quote is about Jesus as the Messiah, but said-good news was not delivered by the followers of Jesus (which would have been historically impossible) and thus while the good news does address a future Messiah who would be a blessing to the nations, it was not specifically describing the “mechanics” of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a means of personal salvation, which is how the Church understands the “good news” today.

The Jewish PaulNanos continues to deliver additional examples of how “gospel” could have been meant differently by Paul in different contexts, and how “gospel” as attributed to the influencers could have been considered “good” to the Gentiles by them, even as Paul considered it “another gospel” which is “not a gospel” at all, for it undermined the good news of the Messiah for Paul’s Gentile students in the Galatian communities.

Nanos paints a portrait of the letter-writing Paul not as crafting a cold, calculated, and logical religious treatise as much as he was delivering a “snarky” commentary as an offended parent to misbehaving teenagers who were being led astray by a misinformed group of “agents of social control” in their local Jewish communities. While being “snarky” doesn’t mean Paul checked his brain at the door and was incapable of composing a complex and scholarly dissertation in letter form, it does mean that Paul was writing a letter in response to a specific event or set of events, and he was quite possibly hurt and angry as he addressed the error of the addressees and the troublesome actions, though possibly even well intended on some level, of the influencers.

My take away from this chapter is that we need to stop being married with the highly technical meanings we assign to certain words and phrases in Christianity, and instead, we should “get down in the mud” so to speak, with Paul as he’s writing his letters, get into his head, get into the situation, as much as history will allow, and experience, in this case, Paul’s Holy Epistle to the Galatians as a letter fired off by a fired up Paul trying to avert what he could only see as a disaster, if his Gentile protegés were led off the path of Paul’s “gospel” to believe in another “gospel,” one that said they would never be equal co-participants in the Jewish community of Messianic followers and worshipers of the God of Israel unless they were circumcised and converted through the proselyte rite into Judaism.

Paul had the good news of the Messiah for the Gentiles that through the covenant promises God made to Israel, by faith as Abraham exhibited before his circumcision, the people of the nations could be grafted in and be made part of the glorious hope that began with God’s elevating the Hebrews, continued with the first stirrings of the New Covenant in the life of Jesus and the Apostolic Era, and that will ultimately be realized with Messiah’s return, a promise of what is to come.

Addendum: The full book review is now online.

FFOZ TV Review: Repentance

tv_ffoz9_1Episode 09: Jesus did not tell his disciples “Believe in me, the kingdom of heaven is at hand” but rather “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In this episode viewers will discover the direct connection between the kingdom of heaven and repentance. Since throughout the Bible sin leads to exile, it is also true that repentance leads to redemption. Followers of Jesus can help prepare the way for Messiah’s final redemption by walking in a life of repentance now.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 9: Repentance

The Lesson: The Mystery of Repentance

You wouldn’t think there’d be much of a mystery about repentance, but as this episode unfolds, a lot of details are unpackaged that I don’t think most Christians are conscious of. Today’s episode, “Repentance,” is a direct sequel of last week’s episode, The Gospel Message. It is a refactoring of the understanding of the desires of God and the work of Jesus Christ from a wholly Jewish point of view, and strives to communicate that the “good news” isn’t just about “me and my personal redemption.” Christianity seems to focus on “me and Jesus,” while Judaism, and specifically Messianic Judaism for our purposes, has a wider field of view.

From this time on, Yeshua began calling out to proclaim and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is on the brink of arrival.”

Matthew 4:17 (DHE Gospels)

This was Messiah’s message to the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, but why didn’t he say “believe in me” rather than “repent?” FFOZ Author and Teacher Toby Janicki calls us to start thinking outside the box of “me and my personal salvation.” Repentance and Kingdom are national concepts, not just personal directives. We’re talking about a message relevant to the entire nation of Israel and the whole of the Jewish people. I know that probably makes Gentile Christians feel a little insecure, but there’s more that we need to understand about who Jesus is and exactly the function of his mission.

Toby says that Jesus did NOT say “believe in me for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He said “repent.” So did someone else:

Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 3:1-2 (NASB)

The following scripture adds more detail:

Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:14-15 (NASB)

This breaks down into three points:

  • The Kingdom of God is at hand.
  • Repent.
  • Believe in the gospel.

This is all very similar to the content of last week’s episode, and Toby makes the point that belief goes hand in hand with repentance. As he was speaking, I recalled that there are certain teachings in Judaism that say if all of Israel were to repent at the same moment, it would summon the coming of the Messiah. There are also contradictory teachings but the gist is that Jewish faith and repentance have a direct connection to when the Messianic Era, that is, the Kingdom of God arrives.

This is radically different from what most Christians believe, since we have been taught the return of Jesus will be on some fixed but unknown date on the calendar. We can neither make it come sooner or delay it from happening.

Here comes the first clue to solving our mystery:

Clue 1: The gospel message carries the imperative message, “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

It’s a call to action. We must do something, that is repent, because the Messianic Era is on the verge of arriving.

tv_ffoz9_aaronBut what is it to repent? Toby tells us that if we believe the gospel message, we will change…not like changing our minds, but changing our lives. My Pastor calls it living a transformed life. Toby says that repentance is a return to God’s Law, the Torah.

The scene shifts to Israel where FFOZ Teacher and Translator Aaron Eby explains the Hebrew word “Teshuvah” to the audience. He tells us the word gives the meaning of turning around and returning. It’s as if God’s desire for people is for us to walk in His ways, literally, walking God’s path. Sinning is like straying off the path and repentance is turning back or returning to the path.

So you shall observe to do just as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left. You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess.

Deuteronomy 5:32-33 (NASB)

The timing of this review couldn’t have been better, since not only are we about to enter the High Holy Days on the Jewish calendar which emphasize repentance and return for the Jewish people, but last week’s Torah portion included the following passage:

“So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.”

Deuteronomy 30:1-3 (NASB)

The “mechanics” of repentance involves a literal ceasing of a specific sin, a deep regret for ever having sinned, verbal confession to God, and making life changes, such as repairing the damage you did to others by sinning, and even giving to charity as a way to compensate for any inability to pay back what you took or heal the hurts you caused. Returning to God’s path.

But this also illustrates that, for the Jewish people, and remember Christ’s primary audience were (and are) Jews and Israel, the only way to repent was (and is) to return to the ways of Torah. If the message of Jesus is as true today as it was nearly two-thousand years ago, then we cannot ask Jewish believers to stop observing the Torah mitzvot, nor can we in the church say that the Torah was meant to be temporary. To do so would be to deny the Jewish people any ability to obey God and repent of their sins. We’d be condemning them to permanent exile, and condemning ourselves to living outside of God’s will for the Gentiles.

Toby gives us the second clue:

Clue 2: Repentance is turning away from sin and towards God’s Law.

The rest of the mystery involves the linkage between repentance and redemption. As mentioned above, when Israel sins, she is exiled from her Land, but Moses in Deuteronomy 30:1-3 also promises that whenever Israel repents, she is redeemed and returned to the Land of Israel. This is the original template for what all of the subsequent prophets in Israel would say, not only about the historic exiles and returns, but the final redemption in the Messianic age.

…and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NASB)

Toby rightly mentions that typically, we’ve heard sermon after sermon applying this verse to Christians in whatever nation we happen to be living in, which in my case, is America. But taken in context, this was being addressed to King Solomon and to Israel. This is not about Christianity and “saving America” as a “Christian nation,” but about the central message of every Jewish prophet in the Old Testament. God intends to heal Israel. Christians can’t afford to be so self-focused that we miss what the Bible is really saying. It’s not all about us and Jesus, it’s about the intent of God toward Israel. It’s about the redemption of national Israel, not individual Gentile souls.

Clue 3: Repentance is a prerequisite to redemption.

It’s almost like Toby is saying that if we all really repent, only then will Messiah return…or is he saying only if Israel repents…?

tv_ffoz9_tobyBut what about us? What about Christians. Does this television episode write us out of the plan of God and the salvation of Christ? Not at all.

Toby says we can be a part of the redemption by living lives of continual redemption. Living such a life is like being part of a sort of “mini-Messianic age.” We experience a foretaste of what is to come when Jesus returns, the time when all of Israel will repent and the Messiah will come in power and glory, bringing redemption to the Jewish people and the world. But none of this happens for Gentile Christians unless Israel repents and is redeemed, so it is in our best interests to support and encourage Jewish observance of Torah.

This lesson has at least strongly implied if not boldly declared that Israel can’t repent unless they return to the specific behavioral path God has provided for them, the Torah. We in the church dare not inhibit this, for Israel’s sake and for our own.

What Did I Learn?

I learned that the timing of the return of Jesus is variable. It isn’t a fixed date on the calendar. According to something FFOZ President and Founder Boaz Michael said at the close of this episode, if Israel had repented at the first coming of Messiah, the Kingdom of God would have been established at that moment.

That’s a rather radical thought, because I always believed that the final redemption was “delayed” to allow time for the gospel message to be transmitted to all the nations of the Earth, to all of the Gentiles. If Israel had repented immediately after the resurrection and the Messianic Era was then established, the vast majority of the world would never have heard of Israel, of Messiah, and they certainly wouldn’t have had a clue that Israel was supposed to be the head of the nations and Israel’s King was the King of the entire planet.

After two-thousand years, if Messiah should return at this very moment, even though many would still disagree with who he is and what he is supposed to do, almost none of us could say that we never heard of Jesus, Israel, the Bible, and what Christians and Jews believe it all means.

Did Jesus truly expect for Israel to have repented long, long ago?

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 22:20 (NASB)

John wrote these words near the close of the first century CE and it certainly seems as if he expected the return of Messiah soon, perhaps within his own lifetime (and he was quite elderly when he penned this part of our Bible). Is it humanity’s fault that he hasn’t come yet? Is our lack of repentance and hardness of heart to blame?

It’s the mystery for next week.

FFOZ TV Review: The Gospel Message

tv_ffoz8_1Episode 08: The gospel message of Jesus is often simplified down to believe in Christ and your sins will be forgiven and you will go to heaven when you die. In episode eight this common misconception will be challenged. Viewers will discover that the main message of the gospel is one of repentance and entering into the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not the place we go to when we die but rather God’s kingdom coming down here on earth. The gospel message is about preparation for the Messianic Age.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 8: The Gospel Message

The Lesson: The Mystery of the Gospel

This episode seemed to cover a lot of previous material, not in the details, but in the theme. It is most closely related with Episode 1: The Good News since gospel means good news. There’s also a close link to Episode 7: Exile and Redemption and Episode 8: Ingathering of Israel. The television series now seems to be stringing individual episodes together to paint a much larger panoramic picture of the prophecies about and the coming of the Messianic Era.

Of course, probably all Christians think they know what the good news or the gospel message is: Jesus died for our sins and if we believe in him, we go to Heaven when we die. And while that’s good news, as previous episodes have told us, that’s not the extent of the gospel message. In fact, most Christians have been given a truncated gospel or an incomplete idea of that the good news really means. To get the whole picture, you have to look at what the gospel message means through a Jewish lens.

The definition of the gospel message of Jesus is actually really easy to find:

After Yochanan was arrested, Yeshua came to the Galil and proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God. He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the good news.”

Mark 1:14-15 (DHE Gospels)

FFOZ Author and Teacher Toby Janicki tells us that Jesus was just beginning his ministry at this point and that these verses provide us with the first clue in solving the Mystery of the Gospel:

Clue 1: The Gospel Message means we should repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

But what does that mean exactly? What is the “Kingdom of Heaven” and what is “at hand?” The phrase “at hand” is sometimes also translated as “near”. Jesus was saying to his listeners that they should repent because the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven was really close and about to happen or occur.

Jewish people in the late Second Temple period, particularly because their nation was occupied by the Roman Empire, were especially waiting for the Kingdom of Heaven to arrive and to their ears, it certainly was good news or the gospel message that Jesus was preaching. It was a message that we find repeatedly in the Gospels.

Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 3:1-2 (NASB)

We also find examples of this message in Matthew 4:17 and Matthew 10:7. But we also find that the good news is sometimes referred to as the “Kingdom of God” while other times, it’s the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Toby tells us that the term “Kingdom of Heaven” is closer to the correct phrase in Hebrew. The word translated as “Heaven” is the Hebrew word “Shamayim.” Does that mean that Jesus was talking about Heaven, where God is and where we’re going to go when we die?

Not according to the Jewish understanding. That’s not how Jesus’s disciples and listeners would have interpreted his message.

The scene shifts to FFOZ Teacher and Translator Aaron Eby in Israel for a better understanding of “Kingdom of Heaven” or in Hebrew, “Malkut Shamayim.”

“Shamayim” can mean just “sky” in Hebrew, but that’s not how it’s understood in the phrase “Malkut Shamayim.” Aaron explains the concept of circumlocution, or avoiding using the Tetragrammaton, the most Holy and personal name for God, the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Jewish people use many other names for God to avoid the offense of taking His most holy name lightly. Names such as “Hashem,” “Holy One,” “Creator,” or “Our Father.”

Another circumlocution for God’s most holy name is “Shamayim” or “Heaven.” You see it often in Talmudic writings, but it’s even in the Bible.

And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules (emph. mine).

Daniel 4:26 (NASB)

Daniel, using the Aramaic equivalent of “Shamayim,” is not saying that literally Heaven, a place, rules, but that God rules. He was merely using a circumlocution for God’s most holy name.

tv_ffoz8_aaronAaron tells us that the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” isn’t God’s Kingdom that is located in a place called Heaven, but it actually means the rule and dominion of God on Earth.

Why do we then sometimes see this phrase rendered “Kingdom of God?” In the thoughts of the gospel writers in Hebrew, they would have used “Malkut Shamayim,” but then translating that phrase into Greek, what words should they have used? Matthew, who was writing primarily to a Hebrew speaking Jewish audience, chose to translate the Hebrew phrase literally as “Kingdom of Heaven.” However, Mark and Luke, who were writing primarily for Greek speaking Jews and non-Jews, translated the phrase idiomatically as “Kingdom of God.” Either way, they were saying the same thing.

Back to Toby and the studio, we have our second clue.

Clue 2: Kingdom of Heaven is not Heaven in the sky but God’s rule and reign on Earth.

Look up the Lord’s prayer and you’ll even find it in how Jesus taught his disciples to pray.

What is God’s rule on Earth? The Messianic Era. The time when Jesus will return and establish his rule as King in Jerusalem, establishing an age of peace, not just in Israel but in the entire world.

Toby solved most of the mystery, but one more clue is needed to answer a final question. Why is the Messianic Era good news?

Isaiah 11:1-4 tells of the prophesy that King Messiah will indeed rule Israel and the world from his throne in Jerusalem. Isaiah 11:6-8, 10 further tells us that Messiah’s reign will be one of complete and total peace. The portrait of such peaceful animals is poetic language describing such a peace. Complete tranquility and bliss, such as was experienced in Eden, long before there was any such thing as war and strife among human beings.

And when such peace comes upon all the earth from Israel, the Gentiles in the nations of the world will see and they will repent and turn to God, inaugurating an age of total, worldwide revival.

But it won’t be totally peaceful:

Then it will happen on that day that the Lord will again recover the second time with His hand the remnant of His people, who will remain, from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And He will lift up a standard for the nations and assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

They will swoop down on the slopes of the Philistines on the west; together they will plunder the sons of the east; they will possess Edom and Moab, and the sons of Ammon will be subject to them.

Isaiah 11:11-12, 14 (NASB)

We see that Messiah ingathers the exiles of the Jewish people from all the nations of the world and returns them to live in complete peace in their Land, in Israel. God Himself delivers justice to all the nations who have been enemies of Israel, vanquishing them, thus insuring Israel’s continual peace.

Now we have the final clue:

Clue 3: Kingdom of Heaven is about Messiah’s reign on Earth.

Toby recaps the lesson, summing up the three clues and solving the mystery. He describes a time when the Jewish people will live under their King in peace and return to the Torah, the law of God. I can only hope that future episodes will flesh out how this actually works relative to both Jewish and non-Jewish people, but that wasn’t the point of the episode.

What Did I Learn?

As I mentioned before, a lot of this material was addressed from other perspectives in previous episodes and I’ve learned about it from other sources as well. What Toby didn’t mention was that, by Jesus teaching that he was the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy and calling the Jewish people to repentance as preparation for the soon to arrive Kingdom of Heaven, it explains why the apostles and his disciples were so incredibly devastated when he was crucified. All of them were expecting that he was going to overthrow the Romans at any minute and assume the Throne of Israel as the promised Messianic King.

tv_ffoz8_tobyWhen he died, it must have seemed as if they were completely mistaken about him, that he couldn’t have been the Messiah, that he must have been just another of a long line of pretenders to the throne who came before him. It’s how most Jews see Jesus today, another would-be Messiah among the many who have since come and gone in Jewish history.

But then, when he was resurrected, so was hope, only there’s a problem of sorts:

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Acts 1:6-8 (NASB)

Given that Jesus had said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” or “near,” once he was resurrected, it made perfect sense to his disciples that he was now ready to ascend the throne. Except he didn’t. He left instead and the disciples waited.

“Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Matthew 16:28 (NASB)

Many believed, based on these words of the Master, that although Jesus wasn’t going to immediately establish his kingdom, it would be within a human lifetime, just a matter of decades. But when the last apostle, John, died of extreme old age, sometime in the last years of the first century CE, the disciples must have felt a keen disappointment again. Messiah had not come to restore his kingdom. Where is he? How long, O’ Lord, how long?

I generally don’t mention this in my reviews, but at the very end of each episode FFOZ President and Founder, Boaz Michael appears on camera to give the audience a brief peek at the next episode. At the end of this episode, Boaz explained that the next episode would pick up the same theme and describe more in detail the process of repenting to prepare for the kingdom and to believe. But Jesus didn’t say “believe in me” he said “believe in the gospel.” What does that mean?

It’s the mystery for next week.

The Truncated Gospel

bible_read_me“The shortest and easiest route home for the two missionaries would have been to continue following the imperial highway through the mountain pass of the Cilician Gates east and then branch right southward to Syria. Surely they might have felt that they had done enough and suffered enough and could now take the easy way home! But Paul was not satisfied with doing a work ‘somehow.’ Always he was constrained to do God’s work ‘triumphantly’ – to finish God’s work with joy on each occasion.

“True shepherds know that it takes time to get a new convert rooted and built up in Christ. This involves sacrifice and hardship for the leader, but there is no eternal fruit without the Cross.”

-from the Sunday School Bible Study notes for Acts 14:21-28
“What Makes a Good Missionary?”

The Sunday School class I go to after church services directly addresses the topic of the Pastor’s sermon and gives the students the opportunity to dig deeper and to comment on the message for the day. Pastor Randy has been in California for the past several weeks but will be back next Sunday when he will be teaching on the aforementioned portion of Acts. My Sunday School teacher hands the study notes out a week early so we have time to review and answer the questions on its pages.

A number of Pastor’s messages about Paul and Acts are mapped to the modern concept and activities of Christian missionaries. This has always bothered me and I never understood why until I took a look at the title of next Sunday’s notes: “What Makes a Good Missionary?” Then it just hit me. Using Paul, beyond a certain point, as a model of the modern missionary is anachronistic. It doesn’t fit. The foundation is different.

Here’s what I mean.

In Paul’s day, he and other Jewish apostles and disciples were attempting to spread the good news of the Jewish Messiah to Jews in Israel, Samaria, and in the diaspora and also to give that news to the Gentiles. Jews had been waiting and waiting for the arrival of the Messiah for centuries, and the need for him to come was especially acute during periods of exile and occupation. Israel was a land occupied by a foreign army and desperate to realize its own liberation and redemption. The news of an arrived Messiah who would be King and who would redeem national Israel would be beyond good news…it would be immense in its impact among world Jewry.

From that point of view, explaining why news of the arrived Messiah would be good news to the Jewish people is a no brainer, but we have to work a little harder (which Paul does) to explain why it is also good news to the people of the nations.

Today, we’ve gotten it somewhat backwards. Not that modern Christian missionaries are doing it wrong. Missionary work is the source of great spiritual and material blessings all over the world. But they are missing a few things.

As I mentioned in my book review of Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel, and as McKnight correctly points out, the plan of salvation is only part of the gospel message. Sadly, modern Christian missionaries believe the salvation plan is the only part of the gospel message.

The more complete message is contained in my review of the First Fruits of Zion television series episode The Good News. What teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby make seem incredibly easy and obvious has actually eluded Gentile Christianity for nearly two thousand years.

What missionaries do today doesn’t map well to what Paul was doing. Paul was delivering the good news that the Messiah had come, had offered salvation from sins for both Jews and Gentiles (and this part was huge since the Jewish people had not anticipated salvation for Gentiles) and that he would return to liberate the captives among Israel, gather the scattered Jewish exiles to their Land, and he would bring peace to Israel and to the nations of the world. The nations would be blessed through Israel, particularly as Israel was made the head of the nations in God’s Kingdom.

I seriously doubt too many Christian missionaries are spreading around that kind of gospel message today. That’s why Paul is used anachronistically as a model for modern Christian missionary work. Most Gentile Christians lack Paul’s vision and emphasis. We don’t exactly preach a different gospel, but it certainly is a truncated one. It’s also kind of upside down.

Apostle-Paul-PreachesPaul always visited the synagogues first and appealed to the local Jewish authorities in whatever place he was visiting. The good news of Messiah would make the most sense to the Jewish people. It would only make sense to Gentile God-fearers because they were spending time in synagogues being immersed in Torah and thus, in the knowledge of Messiah. It wouldn’t make sense at all to pagan Gentiles who had no knowledge of Jewish history or teachings about God (see Acts 14:8-20).

Ok, your counter-argument is that times have changed. Gentiles are largely “in charge” of the worship of the Jewish Messiah and disseminating the information about his birth, death, resurrection, ascendance, and ultimate return (as strange as it sounds for Gentiles to be “in charge” of the iconic Jewish message and King). But does it make sense to strip out what’s going to happen upon the Messiah’s return and why that’s good news for Jewish people and Israel?

Much of the history of the church has been based on the idea that Gentile Christianity has replaced Jewish Israel in all of the covenant promises of God. This is patiently untrue and I’ve discussed it in more blog posts and magazine articles than I can count. But it does make sense for the supersessionistic church to remove the good news of Jewish ascendency and Israel’s national supremacy since it reverses the roles upon which the Gentile church has historically been based. As I’m sure you realize at this point, I think that historical foundation is dead wrong.

…these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Isaiah 56:7

Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

Zechariah 8:23

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Psalm 122:1-2

I realize that Psalm 122 isn’t a Messianic prophesy and is addressing the tribes of Israel, but I believe it also speaks to the spirit of the Messianic age, when we will all be glad to hear the call to go up to Jerusalem and to the House of God, the Holy Temple.

jerusalem_templeEverything in the Jewish message of the gospel points to Messiah, to the Temple, to Jerusalem, to Israel, and to the Jewish people. The mystery of that message isn’t how the Jews will be saved but how everybody else will be saved. From a Jewish point of view, as much today as when Paul was on his “missionary journeys,” the good news of Messiah was a Jewish message aimed straight at the Jewish people and at Israel. It was a given. The big shocker and the mystery of the gospel was how the Gentiles could be saved and redeemed by God as well.

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 (emph. mine).

Acts 10:44-46

Given how the Gentile God-fearers and even the pagans (who were probably told what to expect by their God-fearing neighbors and relatives) reacted to Paul’s gospel message in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (see Acts 13:48) we can see that they too were amazed at the graciousness of the God of Israel.

We’ve lost how amazing it is that Gentiles can be saved by the God of the Jews. We’ve lost how the message of the gospel is not just about a plan of salvation but about the return of the King and how his Kingdom will be established, restoring Israel to her rightful place, and elevating the people who were chosen by God at Sinai.

It’s time for us to remember and to teach all of the gospel message, as Paul once did. It shouldn’t be hard. Paul’s sermons, some of then anyway, are preserved in our Bibles. It’s all right there in front of us. We just need to take off our blinders and learn how to see and read the message again. Then we can spread the word, not of a truncated gospel, but of overflowing good news to all, good news first and foremost to Israel and yes, then to the rest of the nations.