Tag Archives: gospel

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel

kjgospelContemporary evangelicals have built a ‘salvation culture’ but not a ‘gospel culture.’ Evangelicals have reduced the gospel to the message of personal salvation. This book makes a plea for us to recover the old gospel as that which is still new and still fresh. The book stands on four arguments: that the gospel is defined by the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15 as the completion of the Story of Israel in the saving Story of Jesus; that the gospel is found in the Four Gospels; that the gospel was preached by Jesus; and that the sermons in the Book of Acts are the best example of gospeling in the New Testament. The King Jesus Gospel ends with practical suggestions about evangelism and about building a gospel culture.

from the description of Scot McKnight’s book
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
at Amazon.com

Several months ago, D. Thomas Lancaster suggested this book to me and I was able to insert it into my reading list. I can see why Lancaster made the recommendation and while I generally agree with the core message McKnight is presenting, it seems like he could have made a few improvements (in my humble opinion).

But first things first.

The part I liked about McKnight’s book is that he was recasting the gospel message from one that only contains the message of personal salvation to one that is expanded to include the story of Israel.

In his Foreward to the book, N.T. Wright says:

…according to Scot, and I am convinced he’s right: “the gospel” is the story of Jesus of Nazareth told as the climax of the long story of Israel, which in turn is the story of how the one true God is rescuing the world.

Well, that’s true as far as it goes, but this statement illustrates what I see as one of the unfortunate limits of McKnight’s book. While he is correct in stating that the actual gospel message includes the return of Jesus as King of Israel and redeemer of the world (rather than just saving individuals one person at a time), he seems to end the story of Israel after the resurrection of Christ. The end. Israel’s story shifts to the story of a homogenized Kingdom of God in the Messianic Age.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that McKnight’s vision of a future Israel just got lost between the lines, so to speak. Part of his main point, which he emphasized over and over again (the book was kind of repetitive) was:

Most evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples.

I couldn’t agree more. But again, the story of the good news of Messiah goes much further than making disciples. It’s the story of Jesus as the Messiah, the King, the one who will establish his rule of peace on the Earth. This is part of McKnight’s message as well and again, I totally agree.

McKnight also addressed the question of whether or not Jesus and Paul preached the same gospel and (to me), amazingly, whether or not Jesus preached the gospel at all. I was astonished (I don’t know a great deal about the specific theological mechanics of organized Christianity in its various denominations) to discover some Pastors think it was impossible for Jesus to have preached his own good news about himself.

I replied, “A book about the meaning of gospel.”

“That’s easy,” he said, “justification by faith.” After hearing that quick-and-easy answer, I decided to push further, so I asked him Piper’s question: “Did Jesus preach the gospel?”

His answer made me gulp. “Nope,” he said, “Jesus couldn’t have. No one understood the gospel until Paul. No one could understand the gospel until after the cross and resurrection and Pentecost.” “Not even Jesus?” I asked.

“Nope. Not possible,” he affirmed. I wanted to add an old cheeky line I’ve often used: “Poor Jesus, born on the wrong side of the cross, didn’t get to preach the gospel.”

The above transaction gave me a cold chill. It’s terrifying to imagine that hundreds of thousands (or more) of Christians are attending church services, attending Sunday school, attending mid-week Bible classes, and being taught that Jesus could not possibly have understood the good news about himself. Doesn’t anyone read the Bible anymore?

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:16-21 (NASB)

scot-mcknight1That’s pretty much Jesus preaching the good news of the Messiah in a nutshell. It was apparently missed by the above-mentioned Pastor because the gospel message to him is only “justification by faith.” It has nothing to do with Israel, King Messiah, or the national redemption of Israel at all.

I want to make clear at this point that I do believe Jesus does provide the Gentile and the Jewish person salvation from sins on a personal level, but like McKnight, I believe it goes so much further. The gospel message isn’t just about the plan of salvation. It’s the good news that Israel is to be liberated, the exiled Jewish people will be restored to their Land, and national Israel will be elevated to the head of the nations in the physical Kingdom of God.

But you don’t get this in most churches.

…the gospel has lost its edge and its meaning. Nothing proves this more than the near total ignorance of many Christians today of the Old Testament Story.

This is true. It’s impossible to comprehend the full meaning of the Apostolic Writings without a very good grasp of the Torah, Prophets and Writings (Old Testament).

McKnight spends a lot of time saying that to understand the gospel message, you have to start in 1 Corinthians 15. Frankly, that would never have occurred to me as a natural starting point, but then again, I’m not a Bible scholar or a theologian. In fact, to get a good summary of the meaning of the gospel, all you have to do is watch television for about thirty minutes.

Oh not just any show.

I wrote a review of the First Fruits of Zion TV series episode The Good News not too long ago. Here’s a description of the episode from the FFOZ TV web site:

Most Christians believe that the gospel message of Jesus is that he died for our sins and if we have faith in him we will be given the gift of eternal life. While certainly this is a major component of the gospel, it is not the whole story. In episode one viewers will learn that the concept of the gospel wasn’t invented by Jesus or the disciples, but rather was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. The “Good News” was the promise of the coming messiah and that he would bring redemption to the children of Israel.

This sounds very similar to some of McKnight’s writing and I suppose it’s possible this book could have been available (it was published in 2011) to the writers of this television episode, but the content between the two isn’t identical.

Two of the problems I had with McKnight’s definition of the gospel message was that the story of Israel seemed to end with the coming of Messiah (which is a common theme in Christianity) and that he seemed to miss the ascendancy of the Nation of Israel as the core of the Kingdom Messiah is to establish on Earth upon his return. He didn’t say why the Messiah’s gospel message was good news to Jewish people. I summarized this good news for Jewish people in my review:

Toby Janicki, Aaron Eby, and the rest of the FFOZ ministry have “solved” the mystery of the gospel and clued us in on the rest of the message: Jesus came to die for our sins and to deliver the promise of everlasting life for all who believe. But, and this is extremely important, as Messiah King, he came to deliver the promise of good news to all of Israel that when he returns, he will release the captives in exile, restore sight to the temporarily blinded, free the oppressed Jewish people, and proclaim freedom for Israel, the year of favor from the Lord.

This is why I think that Luke 4:16-21 is a better summary of the gospel message of Messiah and proof that Messiah knew what the gospel message was and indeed preached it to Israel. Because the good news of Messiah is first and foremost aimed at Israel nationally and at the Jewish people. After all, Jesus said he came for “the lost sheep of Israel” not the “lost sheep of planet Earth.” Also, Paul always went “first to the Jews and also to the Gentiles.” Why? Because the gospel message is most focused on the Jewish people and made the most sense to the Jewish people.

If McKnight had gone that far, I’d have enjoyed his book a lot better. As it was, I think he made a very important point, but he stopped too soon. He also spent too much time going over and over his central point. I get that he wanted to be thorough and I get that often, an important message needs to be repeated so the reader “gets it,” but I “get it.” I just wanted to get more.

But maybe this is why I didn’t get more.

It is sometimes forgotten that “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. The word Messiah means “anointed King…”

ffoz-teaching-teamI wasn’t surprised when I saw something so elemental in McKnight’s book. I’d gotten past my surprise after writing my review of the FFOZ TV episode Messiah. Exactly the same point was made during this 30-minute episode: the fact that “Christ” is a word that contains a lot more information and meaning than just the “last name” of Jesus.

Like the FFOZ TV show, McKnight is likely writing to the widest possible Christian audience, attempting to tell the largest number of believers that they have been taught a common misconception about the gospel message. After all, if at least some Pastors have adopted a limited vision of the gospel, how can the people who sit in the pews every Sunday be held accountable for not knowing the wider meaning?

Again, I disagree that Jesus has completed Israel’s story at this juncture. Israel still has a story and it will continue to be central to the good news throughout the Messianic Age and beyond. Israel will be the head of the nations and the people of many nations will stream to the Temple in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2, Micah 4:1) in the days of Messiah.

McKnight’s book is readable and educational as far as it goes and I’d recommend it if you want to get out of the traditional rut of gospel equals plan of salvation, period, end of story. But I still wish he’d have taken the story further into the future and presented the Messiah as Israel’s King and his rule on the Throne of David in Jerusalem, his gathering of the exiled Jewish people to himself, and the total redemption of national Israel as well as the people of the nations who are called by his name.

Oh, and this is my 900th blog post on “morning meditations.”

FFOZ TV Review: The Good News

ffoz_tv1Episode 01: Most Christians believe that the gospel message of Jesus is that he died for our sins and if we have faith in him we will be given the gift of eternal life. While certainly this is a major component of the gospel, it is not the whole story. In episode one viewers will learn that the concept of the gospel wasn’t invented by Jesus or the disciples, but rather was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. The “Good News” was the promise of the coming messiah and that he would bring redemption to the children of Israel.

At the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot conference last spring, I told FFOZ President Boaz Michael that I’d like to spread the “good news” of their television ministry through my blog by reviewing one episode of their TV show per week. Obviously, I’ve fallen down on the job. My life has been busy and there have been so many things I’ve wanted to write about. A few months ago, I did write a review about the FFOZ TV series as a whole, and watched a few episodes to get a “flavor” of how the show is organized. But that doesn’t impart the nature of the message each show offers its audience.

Today (as I write this), I’ve revisited my promise and watched the first episode, The Good News. This is actually about the “mystery” of the good news or gospel, since what Christians believe about the gospel message is only part of the story.

The Lesson: What is the Good News?

Toby Janicki is the main speaker and teacher for this and every episode and he asks the question, “what is the gospel message?” Christians think we know the answer. The gospels are the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and the gospel message is that Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected. Through his atoning work, anyone who believes in Christ will have their sins forgiven, receive eternal life, and go to heaven when they die.

Toby doesn’t deny any of that for a second but tells us that it is only part of the message of the gospel or “good news.”

This episode, like the entire TV series itself, encourages the viewer to look at the New Testament from its original First Century CE Jewish context. What would the Jewish people in the time of the apostles have heard and understood when Jesus spoke? How the church presents the gospel today does not carry forward that context and what we hear preached every Sunday is only a portion of the message. That’s the value of this television series to its defined audience, traditional Christian believers. Know Christ better by learning to understand the Jewish Jesus.

Jesus and the apostles were teaching the gospel or good news message long before the crucifixion and it wasn’t “Jesus will die for your sins.” In fact, Jesus spoke the good news in the very beginning:

The Spirit of Hashem is upon me in order to anoint me to bring good news to the humble. He has sent me to care for the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the exiles, and for the blind an opening release … to send the oppressed free … to proclaim a year of favor for Hashem.

Luke 4:18-19 (DHE Gospels)

I used the Delitzch Hebrew Gospels translation for these verses, which Toby also reads from on the show when he quotes from the gospels. It imparts a greater sense of the Hebrew message by “retro-translating” the Greek text into Hebrew and is very helpful in drawing the mind of the Christian reader into the Jewish world of the Messiah.

You may also know that, in the above-quoted verses, Jesus was reading Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue and he was speaking about himself. That scripture, along with several others from Isaiah, will provide valuable source information later in the show that is used to define “good news”.

So who are exiles, the blind, and the oppressed and what do they have to do with the gospel message?

The fact that the apostles didn’t seem to understand that Jesus had to die, and when he did, the shock, disappointment, and fear they experienced before his resurrection, as well as the surprise they felt after he was, tells us that they did not realize the good news had anything to do with the death and resurrection of the Messiah. What then did they think they were preaching to Israel and what was this “good news?”

Then Yeshua traveled around in all the Galil. He taught in their synagogues, he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom, and he healed every sickness and every disease among the people.

Matthew 4:23 (DHE Gospels)

It’s interesting that Toby notes Jesus never defines what the good news is to either the apostles or to anyone he preaches to. He assumes they already know what the gospel message is. But if even the apostles didn’t realize it meant that Jesus was to die, what were they supposed to know?

In this and the other FFOZ TV episodes, Toby presents information and then summaries it as clues, in this case three clues. The first is that the gospel or good news is actually the “good news of the Kingdom” as stated in the above-quoted passage from Matthew. This was a message specifically meant for the Jewish people in Israel and it was good news they were wanting to hear, a message of something they had been waiting for.

To understand what the gospel message is, the scene switches from Toby in the studio to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel. He provides the Hebrew language background for each lesson including this one.

ffoz-teaching-teamAaron takes us through a series of passages from the book of Isaiah including Isaiah 40:9, 52:7, 60:6, and of course, 61:1. In each case the good news is the message of the Messianic mission, the redemption of Israel, that is, physical, national Israel, as well as the entire world, when the Messiah comes to reign as King. The Hebrew word for “good news” is related to the Greek word and its variants that we translate into English as “evangelism” and “gospel”. It’s easy to see how the church has historically understood the message in one sense, but missed its larger meaning.

The scene shifts back to Toby who gives us the second clue: there is a gospel message in the Old Testament. That also takes us to clue 3: the gospel in the Old Testament is the promise of the coming of Messiah and the redemption of Israel, the Jewish people.

We can clearly see that the apostles expected this after the resurrection:

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)

Notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke the apostles for desiring national redemption and self-rule, he just says they don’t have the right to know when it will occur. He does say that before his return and the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom, they will receive power from the Holy Spirit to be Messianic witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth,” which is exactly what we see in the rest of the book of Acts and the New Testament.

Toby then takes the audience through a more detailed examination of each of the previously identified passages in Isaiah, closely drawing the meaning of the good news out and illustrating for us repeatedly how the Jewish audience in the time of the apostles would have understood the good news of Jesus as the coming of the Messiah and the redemption and restoration of Israel, and a reign of peace throughout the entire world.

Who are the exiles? Who are the blind? Who are the persecuted? Exiled and persecuted Israel, temporarily blinded to the Messiah for the sake of the Gentiles:

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.

Romans 11:25 (KJV)

The Greek word most Bibles translate as “hardening” or some variant, is sometimes rendered as “blindness,” such as the King James Bible does. Read in a Jewish context and heard through a Jewish consciousness, when Jesus recited the words of the Prophet Isaiah in Luke 4:18-19, he was saying that he was the Messiah who had come to bring the good news to Israel and to one day redeem and restore her as a physical Kingdom on Earth.

Toby said something interesting about one of the Isaiah prophesies I want to share:

An abundance of camels will envelop you, camel colts of Midian and Ephah, and all of them will come from Sheba; gold and frankincense will they bear, and they praises of Hashem will they proclaim.

Isaiah 60:6 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Toby relates that according to the Jewish sages, this describes the Gentile nations coming to Jerusalem to pay tribute to King Messiah. However, we have already seen something similar in the Magi of the East coming with gifts to pay tribute to the newborn Jesus. Of course, it is quite possible that Isaiah’s prophesy may have more than a single application. And it’s important to know the relationship between Gentile Christianity, the redeemed Israel, and the Jewish Messiah King.

The other interesting thing that Toby brought up (and I never realized this before) is that Jesus is actually speaking in Isaiah 61:1. Notice the text says (as translated in the Stone Edition Tanakh) that “the spirit of my Lord, Hashem/Elohim, is upon me, because Hashem has anointed me to bring tidings to the humbled; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…

The emphasis is obviously mine and I include it to illustrate that it is the Messiah who is directly speaking in these verses, the voice of Yeshua bringing hope to Israel in the pages of the Old Testament.

When Christians read about the redemption of Israel in Isaiah, they often interpret the prophesy to mean “spiritual Israel” or “the church.” And yet, the Jewish hearers of Jesus and the Jewish readers of the gospels of the apostles would have understood the message much differently. They would have understood that the good news of Jesus is the promise of the coming Messiah and the redemption and restoration of national, physical Israel as a Kingdom on Earth.

dhe_lukas

This does not unwrite or replace the fact that Jesus died for our sins and that in his resurrection, we have forgiveness and an eternal place in the world to come if we believe. However, we Gentiles are grafted in to the commonwealth of Israel, as Toby teaches. We don’t replace Israel, we come alongside her and partakers of the promises, and as subjects and servants of the Jewish Messiah King.
What Did I Learn?

I’ve consumed a great deal of this material at FFOZ conferences or from their audio CD lectures as well as reading it in their printed material, but this television episode titled “The Good News” helped me organize that information into something that is easier for me to remember and transmit to others, a message to my Christian reading audience (and I am a Christian among them) that we have only been taught part of the story of the good news.

Toby Janicki, Aaron Eby, and the rest of the FFOZ ministry have “solved” the mystery of the gospel and clued us in on the rest of the message: Jesus came to die for our sins and to deliver the promise of everlasting life for all who believe. But, and this is extremely important, as Messiah King, he came to deliver the promise of good news to all of Israel that when he returns, he will release the captives in exile, restore sight to the temporarily blinded, free the oppressed Jewish people, and proclaim freedom for Israel, the year of favor from the Lord.

If you found this message of the true good news of Jesus Christ interesting and illuminating, I highly encourage you to watch the complete episode The Good News, which is the first in the series, at tv.ffoz.org. It is First Fruits of Zion: A promise of what is to come.

I hope to review the next episode very soon.

Gifts of the Spirit: Dancing at the King’s Wedding

king-davidThen he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.”

2 Kings 5:15

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

Matthew 4:17

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Mark 16:15-18

Curious combination of scriptures. What could they possibly have to do with one another? Oh sure. The quotes from Jesus seem to mesh, linking the Gospel message with the Kingdom of Heaven. But do they link in the way we think they do? Perhaps not.

Last Friday morning, Aaron Eby spoke at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) annual Shavuot conference on a topic called Turn of the Age. The message focused on what we see the Master saying in Matthew 4. It wasn’t the last time Yeshua would speak those words and those words also resonated throughout many different teachings at the conference.

The Kingdom of God is near. What does that mean?

Here’s a hint: it’s not Heaven.

On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

Zechariah 14:6-9

That’s not Heaven either. We see the prophet telling us of the events that will herald the coming Messianic Age, when the Messiah King will rule over all the earth from his throne in Holy Jerusalem.

But if this is what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of Heaven is near, how could it be near? Almost 2,000 years have passed since he spoke those words, and the Messianic Age is no more upon us now than it was when the Master taught his disciples in the Temple courts. What is “near?”

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Mark 12:32-34

How could Jesus say that the scribe was not far from the kingdom of God? How could the scribe be “near” the Messianic Age when we know that the Messianic Age; the return of the King, has not yet occurred? We’ve been waiting for twenty centuries and we are continuing to wait.

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

Matthew 4:17

What does repentance have to do with bringing the Messianic Age? For that matter, what is the “good news” of the Messiah?

According to Eby, it has nothing to do with personal salvation. But let me back up a second.

Yes, of course, personal salvation is important and even vital to us as individual believers. We cannot even know God to the slightest degree unless we repent of our sins, confess Christ as Lord, and accept the gift of salvation. I know that.

But that’s not the entire message or even the primary message of the Gospel.

up_to_jerusalemIn America and many other western nations, Christianity is taught as a religion of individuals. Oh sure, we have the expression “body of Christ,” but we don’t act much like a body. Judaism, by contrast, is much more community focused. The idea and lived expression of “Israel” has never been about the individual Jewish person, but about all Jews everywhere, inextricably tied together with all other Jews, regardless of where they live, what language they speak, their local customs, or anything else. Yes, it is true that not all of the different groups of Jewish people get along all the time and there can be much friction, but at the end of the day, so to speak, a Jew is a Jew. Just take a look at Shoah and you’ll understand. When they come for one Jew, they come for all Jews.

The Good News is not just the message of personal redemption but of national redemption for all of Israel; it’s the good news that the Messiah King has come and that Israel has been restored and brought back to God as a Holy People and as the head of the nations.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Acts 1:6

Clearly the apostles understood the message of the Good News of the Kingdom, not of going up to Heaven but of Heaven coming to earth, so to speak; of the restoration of Israel and the return of the King to the Throne of David. The question wasn’t inappropriate, it just came too soon.

Lest 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. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Romans 11:25-29

Christianity has been beating the Jews viciously with the “Gospel message” for many centuries, demanding that Jews stop being Jewish in order to be saved by the “Goyishe Jesus.” But we’ve terribly misunderstood what Moshiach has taught us. We’ve put the cart before the horse. We substituted the nations for Israel.

It is we in the church who must repent for the Kingdom of Messiah is at hand, and we don’t want him to discover us unprepared.

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:1-13

Aaron didn’t quote all these scriptures, but in reviewing my notes of his teaching, these words are fairly dripping off the tips of my fingers and onto the keyboard. Imagine then, that the foolish virgins were those who did not know the King for they did not know Israel, but the wise virgins knew the King and the King knew them, for they waited for the rising of the Jewish nation and the return of Israel’s firstborn son from Heaven.

The Kingdom of Heaven is near whenever we do something to prepare ourselves, whenever we read the Bible, whenever we pray. The Kingdom is at hand whenever we give food to the hungry, whenever we visit the sick, whenever we comfort a person who is grieving. We summon the Kingdom every time we do the will of the Lord and Master who loves our souls. We bring the Kingdom just a little bit closer whenever we love God, whenever we love another human being, and especially whenever we love Israel.

wind-sky-spirit-ruachThe Good News is that we should repent, particularly of our sins against Israel, in order to bring the Kingdom of God. When we repent, we bring the Messianic Age one step closer to fruition. In Judaism, it is believed that human beings have some sort of control of the “timing” of the Master’s return. I don’t know if that’s really true or not (and certainly it’s not a belief in the church) but it does summon the idea that we are partners in creation with God. When we are saved, we are to live a spirit-filled life, one of patience, kindness, and love, a life that rejoices in truth, that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

The gifts of the Spirit are in an intricate dance with the Gospel of Christ and the Word of God, and we must be part of that dance as well, lest we be left out in the cold and the dark when the bridegroom comes. We can dance at the wedding of the King or march to a funeral dirge. Our choice.

This is only part of what Aaron had to say, but to say more would make this “meditation” far too long, at least for today. I haven’t even told you why Jesus did miracles. It’s not for the reason that you think, although Naaman the commander of the army of the king of Syria knew.

I’ll leave you with a question (which I’ll answer tomorrow).

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:26-29

Why was Jesus resurrected from the dead but his wounds were not healed?

127 days.

Lancaster’s Galatians: Sermon Three, Paul’s Gospel, and the Unfair Election

voting-ballot-electionFor I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:11-12

What did Paul mean by “man’s gospel”? He did not mean a false gospel, or a corrupt gospel, or something fleshly and worldly. He meant to differentiate the way that he became a believer from the way that people ordinarily became believers in that day, and he wanted to differentiate between his gospel message and the one the other believers ordinarily proclaimed in his day.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Sermon Three: Paul’s Gospel (Galatians 1:11-24)” pg 33
The Holy Epistle to the Galatians

I’m depressed. I’m hitting walls I didn’t know were there, probably because I don’t have much of a formal education in theology or Bible studies.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

Last night was my scheduled Wednesday night conversation with Pastor Randy. I arrived at his office as he was finishing his dinner salad for our discussion on Chapter Three of Lancaster’s book. We ended up talking about topics that didn’t directly relate but were nonetheless interesting (Revelation and the rapture, and the age of the universe, but those are topics for a different time).

As I said in my previous blog post, we’ve been searching for some common ground on the definition of “Torah,” and that does figure heavily into last night’s conversation and this missive.

We focused on Paul’s “my gospel.” Pastor Randy and I agreed that Paul literally wasn’t preaching a separate gospel from the one taught by the other apostles or the one that we have with us today. The differentiation, as we both understood it, was how Paul received the gospel vs. just about everybody else. Paul didn’t take lessons from James and Peter, he received his information, at least initially, directly from Jesus through supernatural means.

“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.

“When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

Acts 22:6-11, 17-21

According to Lancaster (pg 36), the difference between man’s gospel and Paul’s gospel is that Paul’s gospel teaches:

  • Gentiles can inherit eternal life.
  • Gentiles can become part of the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Gentiles can experience resurrection from the dead.
  • Gentiles have standing among the people of God (i.e., Israel) without becoming Jewish.

It certainly seems to me that Paul “pioneered” the idea that Gentiles could become full covenant members of “the Way” without having to convert to Judaism, but did Paul write his letter before or after Peter’s encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10? Assuming it was after, did Paul know about that encounter? And how do we know that Jesus gave Paul specific instructions relative to the Gentiles that no one else had, particularly by the time he was writing his Galatians letter?

I’m not saying it’s impossible, but Paul still had to come under the authority of the Jerusalem Council, so he couldn’t “shoot from the hip” as far as his ministry to the Gentiles was concerned. The whole point of Acts 15 was putting the status of Gentiles in the Way to the test to determine if they had to convert to Judaism or not. Even if Paul’s authority came directly from Messiah, he still had to respond to James and the Council of Apostles as the Master’s primary representatives in our world.

album-unsavedBut that’s not what worries me.

Pastor and I got around to talking about what Jesus did for the Jewish believers (what he did for the rest of us should be obvious…but apparently it isn’t). I said that he fulfilled the Messianic promises and gave hope for redemption, not only for individual Jews but for the redemption of national Israel. So what did the Jews do for salvation before Jesus? Did the sacrifices in the Temple and earlier, in the Tabernacle save?

No, of course not. Faith is what saves. That goes all the way back to Abraham. It wasn’t the sacrifices as such, but due to their faith, the Jews were saved and they fulfilled the requirement of the sacrifices out of obedience. It’s always been about faith in God, otherwise millions upon millions of Jews who had lived before the birth of Christ would have been set up for failure.

Pastor Randy agreed.

But…

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

Acts 13:48

I added the emphasis above to make a point.

I’ve probably heard of the Christian Doctrine of Election before, but never in any real detail. According to Paul (Ephesians 2:8), “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” OK, I get that. There’s nothing I can do to earn salvation. No matter how many good deeds I commit, that doesn’t add any “bonus points” to my “salvation score.” Only by the grace of God am I saved.

But what’s my part in the deal? It’s not like I just sit around watching television and God comes over and randomly “zaps” me with salvation. Don’t I do something? Well, Paul did say, “saved through faith.” That is, I have to choose to have faith in God through Christ in order to be saved.

But Pastor Randy asked if even the act of choosing to have faith a “work.” That seemed kind of a stretch to me. In order to be a part of anything, it really helps if you contribute something, even just a tiny bit, so as to have a sense of “ownership” in the process, including salvation.

Long discussion short, Pastor Randy says that God preselects individuals to have faith. Thanks to Adam and Eve, we are all born into a state of sin as our basic nature. We can’t help it. We have no say in the matter. But here’s the kicker. Supposedly, we also have no say in the matter in regard to being saved. By nature, we all would reject Christ if given a choice, because of that nature. Only God implants faith in a human being and only those human beings who God has “programmed” to be capable of faith will ever be saved.

The rest of humanity, not so much. Fires of hell for them, no matter how many times they hear the words of the gospel.

One of my favorite sections of the Bible is the sequence that describes Jacob wrestling with the Angel. From a Jewish point of view, this gives human beings a broad license to “wrestle” with God on ethical and moral issues. We can actually debate God if we think He’s advocating for a position that is unfair or unjust. After all, Abraham did it in the matter of Sodom and Gomorrah. God doesn’t seem to mind.

But am I wrestling with God or with a specific Christian doctrine? I’m definitely wrestling with Pastor Randy. It was one of those times when I was acutely aware that his education in religious matters far, far outstripped my own, and I was absolutely fighting under my weight. It was like I was Justin Bieber trying to go a couple of rounds in the boxing ring with Mike Tyson.

I was going to get slaughtered.

Saying, “Hey, that’s unfair” or “That’s not right” doesn’t cut it if I can’t support my position from the Bible. God doesn’t have to be fair. He told Job that after all the arguing had stopped. He who makes the universe makes the rules. Fairness doesn’t come into play.

But in the aforementioned debate between Abraham and God, Abraham invoked God’s attribute of justice. If God is just, can He perform an unjust act?

Abraham,God_and_two_angelsIf God is just, is it right for him to automatically condemn some and probably most of the entire human race across all of history to eternal damnation and horrible, flaming agony, while preserving only a remnant…and absolutely none of those human beings have a choice in the matter?

Think about it. It’s all Adam’s and Eve’s fault. They are the only ones who ever had a choice. According to “Divine Election,” if you’re saved, it wasn’t your choice, you just got lucky. If you’re not saved, same deal. You just have really crummy luck.

This is why atheists say Christians are crazy and even cruel. I mean, it’s one thing if Jesus offers me the free gift of eternal salvation and I throw it back in his face. Then I can see how I’d deserve condemnation. But to never even have a shot at it?

Pastor Randy, at one point, shared how incredibly grateful he is to God for choosing him for salvation. That’s good for him and maybe good for me, but what about the poor, dumb, characters out there who are among the unchosen and don’t even realize what they’re facing…and if they did, there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. No amount of repenting of sins, turning to God, professing faith in Christ will save them.

Of course, according to Pastor Randy, they wouldn’t desire to do any of that anyway, but no one is born with that desire if we are all born in original sin. What’s the difference between Pastor Randy, who came to faith early in life, and me who came to faith after the age of forty? Was my program from God somehow slightly defective that it waited so long to start to run? I’d heard about Jesus for decades before I came to faith. How come my program didn’t kick in before it did?

However, there are other perspectives. According to Richard Land in his article at ChristianPost.com:

First, we must understand that the Bible reveals two different kinds of election, and much confusion has resulted from failing to see this distinction. Abrahamic Election is substantially different from Salvation Election. Abrahamic Election (Gen. 12:1-3) explains how God chose the Jews to be His chosen people. Salvation Election pertains to God’s elective purpose in how He brings about the eternal salvation of individual human beings, both Jew and Gentile, in both the Old and New Testaments.

Abrahamic Election is corporate, is to special people status, and is not related to anything. Salvation Election is individual and is to eternal salvation. In God’s providence, He has chosen to reveal His dealings with His people more fully in the New Testament. In doing so, a third difference between Abrahamic (corporate) and Salvation (individual) Election is underscored. God revealed in the New Testament that Salvation Election is somehow intertwined with, and connected to foreknowledge in a significant way (Rom. 8:29-30; 11:2; I Pet. 1:2).

“There is no question here of predestination to Heaven or reprobation to hell; …. we are not told here, nor anywhere else, that before children are born it is God’s purpose to send one to heaven and one to hell….The passage has entirely to do with privilege here on earth.” (Ironside, Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans, p. 116)

What if the Bible is telling us in the concept of “foreknowledge” that God does not just know all things that have, or ever will happen, as if they were the present moment to Him, but that He has, and always has had, the “experience” of all things, events, and people as a punctiliar present moment?

That makes a bit more sense and satisfies my personal value of justice. We all have free choice and can choose to accept or reject Jesus. God just knows what choice we’ll make because, while history and our lives seem like a movie that he have to live through frame-by-frame, God sees everything all at once, as if it were a snapshot.

I doubt that’ll satisfy Pastor Randy, and he admits agonizing over this issue before coming to a final decision, but if I have to err, I’d prefer to err on the side of mercy and compassion.

Because if Pastor Randy is right, how does anyone know if he’s really saved?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23

condemnedObviously, not everyone who thinks they’re saved is really saved. Mistakes will be made and errors encountered. What if someone who isn’t supposed to be saved becomes convinced and believes they have faith in Jesus. Maybe they really don’t, but they think they do. It’s not like they’ve made an internal error in thinking, they just aren’t “programmed” to be saved. It’s impossible, from a Divine Election point of view, for that person to be saved.

So on the last day, they find out, “Oops, I’m condemned” and appeal to Jesus and he blows them off, just like that.

Not that it was the person’s fault because they had no choice in the matter!

You can see why I’m depressed and a little disgusted. I think I can remain a Christian and still not have to marry the “Divine Election” theory because if that were the only option, my faith would hang in the balance.

In my last blog, I said:

No human being is a perfectly neutral, objective observer. We all tend to read the Bible, even in its original languages, in terms of what we already “know” about it; that is, what we already believe is says. We translate the ancient Greek and Hebrew text in a manner usually consistent with those beliefs and that means we generally never surprise ourselves with the outcome.

The Bible is the Bible, but doctrine is man-made. The fact that there’s more than one way to interpret how people get saved means there’s more than one way to view the Bible, and thus, God. Right now, I’m a little too upset to go into cold, dispassionate research on this matter, weighing the pros and cons. Right now, if God really is programming us like little widgets, deliberately condemning people to eternal damnation for no better reason than they were just born as human beings in a fallen world, then I am up for a good old fashion wrestling match with God.

I’ll probably lose…but so have billions of other human beings out there. They never had a chance.