Tag Archives: Holy Epistle to the Hebrews

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Sacrifice of Praise

How can we worship God without the sacrifices?” The epistle of the Hebrews points us to the text of Hosea 14:2 to answer this question, employing the same proof text and arriving at nearly the same conclusion that the sages of Yavneh offered after the destruction of the Temple. That prescient message anticipated the coming exile and offered Israel a survival guide for the long years ahead without sacrifice, without priest, and without temple.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Forty-six: Sacrifice of Praise
Originally presented on March 22, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster started his final sermon in his “Hebrews” series in what I thought was an odd place:

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.

Acts 3:1 (NASB)

You may or may not know about the Tamid or the continual burnt offering which was presented on the altar twice daily, once in the morning for the Shacharit service and once in the afternoon, at the ninth hour, for the Maariv service.

Lancaster takes his audience on a short trip through the Apostolic Scriptures to demonstrate that Yeshua (Jesus) and his Jewish disciples were devoted to worshiping in the Temple in Jerusalem “continually” (Luke 24:53), “every day” (Acts 5:42), being devoted to “the prayers” (Acts 2:42). And the set times of the prayers were at Shacharit and Maariv when a fresh lamb would be placed on the altar to burn from morning to afternoon, and then from afternoon and throughout the night, a sacrifice continually before the Lord.

For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises…

Romans 9:3-5 (emph. mine)

As we see, even when the Temple stood, the prayer services and the sacrifices were inexorably linked. There was no one or the other in Jewish thought. The singing and the prayers were always part of the sacrificial system that God gave to the Jewish people. This is how God said He wanted His people Israel to worship Him.

But on the 17th day of Tammuz in the year 70 C.E., all that ended. The siege of Jerusalem began and the supply of lambs was cut off. Except for the time of the Maccabees, the Tamid sacrifice had been offered day after day for five hundred years, and before the Babylonian exile, an additional 400 years. For almost a thousand years, morning and afternoon, the priests placed a lamb on the altar to burn continually before God.

And now it was all over, and the Tamid cannot be offered to this very day.

How could the Jewish people imagine worshiping God without the Temple and the sacrifices? This was how God said He was to be worshiped and now it is impossible. The grief, sorrow, and separation from God must have been almost unimaginable.

But even before the Temple was destroyed and years if not decades before the Roman siege on Jerusalem began, the Greek-speaking Jewish disciples of Messiah, the readers of this epistle we’ve been discussing for the past year, were asking themselves the same question.

And here’s the answer:

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you and return to the Lord.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips.

Hosea 14:1-2

In verse two, the phrase “fruit of our lips” isn’t quite correct. The Hebrew literally says bulls of our lips,” but that sounded strange to those who later translated the Jewish texts into Greek, so those translators changed the Hebrew word slightly to say “fruit”.

The Sacrifice - detailBut Hosea knew what he was trying to say to his audience, the Hebrews who were offering sacrifices, not in the Temple in Jerusalem which is the only place on Earth God has said it was His will that the sacrifices be made, but to Golden Calves, one in Dan and the other in Bethel.

What did the prophet call for them to do? Return and repent…to offer “words” which are words of repentance and prayer.

Lancaster quoted from Exodus Rabbah to illustrate that after the Temple was destroyed, the sages used these verses from Hosea to salvage Judaism, to design the synagogue system with its daily times of prayers that correspond to the times of the Tamid sacrifices at the Temple, and in which each prayer maps to a specific sacrifice.

Now we get to the end of the Book of Hebrews.

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.

Hebrews 13:15 (emph. mine)

When a Christian sees this verse and thinks about continually offering prayer, they think “prayer without ceasing,” but that’s not how this passage is meant to be read within the context of first century Judaism. “Continually” summons the ritual of the Tamid sacrifices and the daily set times of prayer, and we see “fruit of lips” being rendered in the Greek but which refers to the original meaning of “bulls”.

So, long before the Rabbinic sages determined that the only way to continue to obey God and to worship Him was to substitute the prayers for the sacrifices in the Temple, it was already being addressed by the Prophet Hosea and much later, by the writer of the Hebrews letter.

But for the readers of the epistle and for all of their Jewish brothers and sisters, it was well-known that one does not offer a sacrifice without a priest. So if prayers are to substitute for sacrifices, then they are offered through the High Priest in the Heavenly Temple, through Yeshua.

But that’s not all of the answer, just most of it.

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit (bulls) of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Hebrews 13:15-16

The whole answer of how a Jewish person was to worship God without the Temple was through:

  • The set times of prayer
  • Doing good
  • Sharing with others

And on this answer was built the entire Jewish liturgical prayer service we see in the synagogue today. What served as a word of exhortation for the Yeshua-believing Jews cut off from the Temple service by the Sadducees while the Temple was still standing, became the answer for untold generations of Jews who have lived and died since the destruction of Jerusalem nearly two-thousand years ago.

Lancaster (and he delivered this sermon about eight months ago) said he had just read Aaron Eby’s book, which I have recently mentioned, First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer. He quoted from Aaron’s book saying that if one only used liturgical prayer in worshiping God and only prayed with a minyan, then that person would be missing out on something, for the prayer service can be “tragically impersonal”.

Judaism makes a distinction between corporate and personal prayer, and man was meant to engage in both. Participation in the Jewish prayer services, at least in some small manner, is as if you have participated in the Temple services, which as Lancaster mentioned, is quite a privilege for a Messianic Gentile. It also summons the prophesy that God’s Temple will be a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7, Matthew 21:13).

What Did I Learn?

I was struck with Lancaster’s presentation of how Judaism was salvaged by the sages on the strength of Hosea 14:1-2. I know many Christians who love the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. However, they just don’t love Judaism. They expect those Jews who enter the Messianic Age to come will convert to Christianity and leave Judaism behind. They can’t imagine that the salvation of the practice of Judaism is a good thing or in any sense, could be pleasing to God. They think Judaism is a man-made religion of vain works, manufactured in order to replace the Biblical commandments God issued to Israel telling them how He wants to be worshiped.

synagogueBut Lancaster makes a good case for the synagogue service being a continuation of Biblical instruction and a direct response to the commandments to make teshuvah and return to God through the prayers (avoda), through good deeds (the mitzvot), and charity (tzedakah).

This is how the very first non-Jewish disciples of Messiah would have worshiped alongside their Jewish teachers and mentors. This is how the disciples Paul made in Antioch would have served God, through the set times of prayer, doing good deeds, and through acts of charity. It must have looked very Jewish.

Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.

Acts 10:1-2 (emph. mine)

Cornelius didn’t pray without ever stopping, he prayed at the set times of the Tamid offerings. I knew this based on other verses in this chapter, but Lancaster’s example is just one more support for this belief.

In all good conscience, I don’t think we Gentile Christians have much of a leg to stand on if we oppose Messianic Jews practicing (Messianic) Judaism and speak against the synagogue service. If we can accept, even to the smallest degree, that the sages had (and have) a right and responsibility to shepherd the Jewish people in the continuation of devotion to God after the destruction of Jerusalem, then who is to say that their interpretation and application of Hosea 14:1-2 is wrong? Who is to say that Messianic Jews continuing the practice of Judaism as it was established at the beginning of the modern era, and as it has been developed by the Rabbinic sages over the long centuries is wrong?

Maybe it really is a privilege for Messianic Gentiles like me to be able to participate in the synagogue service in anticipation of entering the Temple and praying in God’s House in the days of Messiah.

Conclusion

This has been a long study but an enjoyable one. I was speaking with a friend the other day about some of Lancaster’s points on this epistle, and I could tell by his facial expression and his deliberate silence that he didn’t agree with everything I was saying. That’s OK. It’s possible that Lancaster isn’t 100% correct in each and every little detail, but which Biblical teacher or scholar is? I am still reasonably convinced that Lancaster’s interpretation is viable and sustainable, and it has the advantage of agreeing with the rest of the Bible, especially the Torah and the Prophets, rather than contradicting it and rather than contradicting what I believe to be the will of God for the Jewish people, for the nation of Israel, for the Jewish practice of Judaism, and for the future Messianic Age.

This epistle has been a royal pain in my neck for a long time. It just seemed to say many things that directly went against what I read in the rest of the Bible, including the other portions of the Apostolic Scriptures. This “proof” that Jesus and the spiritual world replaced the Temple, the Torah, the Priests, and everything God said in the first two-thirds of the Bible has never set well with me but it’s in the Bible so what was I to do? Yes, I heard of one guy who made a big deal in certain circles of saying that the Book of Hebrews was either mistakenly canonized or was admitted into canon by Gentile believers in an attempt (apparently a successful one) to remove all vestiges of Judaism from Gentile Christian practice and theology.

As it turns out, such a rejection of scripture isn’t necessary. What is necessary is to engage the text on its own terms and within its own context, not through the lens of almost twenty centuries of Christian interpretive tradition, reinventing the wheel, and revisionist history.

Rolling the Torah ScrollLike my friend, you may choose not to agree with how Lancaster interprets Hebrews but I think his sermons and this study shows that the problem may not be with the Bible but with the traditions we use to read it. Lancaster chooses to use Jewish traditions which renders the meaning of the epistle in a very different and, in my opinion, refreshing way.

I don’t know if I’m ready to jump into another commitment to a recorded series on the heels of ending this one. I could use a break. Besides, I have plenty of other things I can write about.

I hope you enjoyed these reviews as much as I enjoyed listening to Lancaster’s sermons on the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews.

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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Outside the Camp

Our religion involves a lot of ritual foods, including the ceremony that Christians refer to as the Eucharist, but the writer of the book of Hebrews warns his readers to steer away from sacramental interpretations of ceremonial foods. This discussion of Hebrews 13:9-14 brings the central conflict behind the epistle into sharp focus.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Forty-five: Outside the Camp
Originally presented on March 8, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Hebrews 13:9-14 (NASB)

I have no idea what happened to sermon forty-four. It’s not in the list at the Beth Immanuel website. We seem to be missing the previous week’s sermon which probably covered Hebrews 13:1-8. I guess we’ll have to live without it.

But Lancaster says something compelling about today’s sermon. He says that the whole summation of the entire epistle can be found in these verses. Really?

However, we have to be willing to accept some speculation on his part about the meaning of the “varied and strange teachings”. There’s no way to know for sure what they really were, but Lancaster has a theory. The thinks that these strange teachings were some odd, mystical interpretation about the meaning of the sacrifices, particularly the peace and sin offerings, which are the only ones that were eaten.

Lancaster guesses that some teachings were being circulated, probably by the Sadducees who were in control of the Temple, stating that unless the priest actually eats of the sacrificial portion in the presence of the person making the offering, the offering was ineffective. Or unless the sin offering were completely burned, the sins were not forgiven.

Again, this is pure guesswork on Lancaster’s part, but I thought it sounded sort of like the following:

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.”

Matthew 23:16-22

PriestsSwearing by the Temple vs. swearing by the gold in the Temple; yeah, that sounds like a strange and diverse teaching, too. Lancaster believes the writer of the Hebrews letter was saying that the priesthood was circulating strange teachings about the animal sacrifices indicating they meant far more than they actually did. This was an attempt to pile on more pressure, since the readers of the letter, the Greek-speaking believing Jews, had been exiled from the Temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices. If these Jews thought that not offering sacrifices meant, on some mystic level, that they were exiled from God, they might actually abandon faith in Messiah for the sake of offering korban.

Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.

Hebrews 13:9

But God’s grace and favor doesn’t come from “mystic food”, it comes from faith.

Lancaster offered the example of the Catholic Church from the Middle Ages to the present. Even in the present-day Catholic Church, the Church can refuse to offer the sacrament of the eucharist, Holy Communion, to a Catholic who has gone against church teaching, perhaps by supporting abortion rights for example. It is a terrible shame to be excommunicated and many Catholics are successfully manipulated by the pressure to at least publicly change their beliefs so they can regain access to Communion.

This is sort of how Lancaster sees what the Jewish letter readers were going through.

Except, like the eucharist, the sacrifices are not “magic food”. Simply offering and eating doesn’t impart or remove God’s grace and blessing apart from the believer’s faith and devotion to God. Verse 9 says the heart is strengthened by grace, not food. It also says that if eating the “magic food” was so effective, how come the corrupt priesthood of Sadducees was still so wicked?

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.

Hebrews 13:10

This verse could be one of the proof texts used by the early Catholic Church to justify the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion as a sacrament that replaced the Temple sacrifices (and no doubt more than a few Protestants also believe this). The people who have no right to eat of the sacrament, in this scenario, are the Jews, unless they convert to Christianity.

The Death of the MasterLancaster’s take is different from the traditional Christian interpretation, and follows along with what he’s taught about the rest of the epistle. He’s saying that the earthly Temple is a reflection of the Heavenly Temple, and that the Heavenly altar has “food” that those who serve in the tabernacle, that is, the earthly priesthood, have no right to eat, not because they’re priests or Jews, but because of their wicked hearts and actions.

The next several verses metaphorically compare the national sin offering to the Messiah’s death.

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. herefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.

Hebrews 13:11-13

The blood of the sin offering was to be taken outside the camp which in those days was outside the walls of Jerusalem. This is where the Master was executed, outside the city walls. The letter writer says that we too should be willing to share in the Master’s reproach, for just like he was, they also have been rejected from the larger community, like lepers, ostracized, seemingly abandoned. But if they are worthy of the Messiah, then they would be willing to suffer, even to the death, for the sake of their faith and the promise of the Messianic Age to come.

What Did I Learn?

I would have missed most of those details, but by now, I’ve stopped reading the parts of Hebrews not covered by the sermons I’ve heard and I’ve been willing to listen to Lancaster’s explanation first. That’s probably a fault of mine, and in retrospect, I should have read ahead to see if what I’ve learned so far could help me in anticipating what comes next.

Be that as it may, I wouldn’t have gotten the comparison of “magic” sacrificial food to the eucharist and the artificial manufacture of a sacramental system created to replace the Temple practices. The sacrament of Holy Communion also requires a priesthood, so you can see how the earliest foundations of the Church were predicated on replacement theology or supersessionism. And even though the Protestant church doesn’t emphasize the necessity of frequent taking of the eucharist, they haven’t done away with it either, accepting the fundamental underpinning the Catholics established, that the wine and the wafer mean something, and that a Christian cannot be complete without accepting Communion.

Lancaster made another point, a big one, that really spoke to me. He compared Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles to those put “outside the camp”. He compared us to the readers of the Hebrews epistle. Those of us who identify with the Messianic Movement are largely to completely rejected by both mainstream religious Judaism and mainstream Christianity in all its denominations.

Judaism not only rejects those Jews who accept the revelation of Yeshua as Messiah, but absolutely rejects the Gentiles who have come alongside Israel through faith in Messiah. Of course this is also true of the Church. I know what it’s like to maintain a Messianic theological and doctrinal framework within a local church environment. Everyone was nice and friendly and accepting of me but not of most of what I had to say. And for the Messianic Jew, the Church has no problems with that person as long as they convert to Christianity and surrender any form of Jewish practice beyond a token Passover seder or maybe building the occasional sukkah.

Lancaster states that Messianic Judaism is based on a completely different set of theological assumptions than Christianity. But it’s a set of foundations that he believes are correct, and in fact, represent a major “course correction” in the deviated trajectory Christianity has charted over the past nearly two-thousand years.

If the foundation of Christianity is “out of whack,” the only recourse is to tear down the structure and rebuild it from the ground up. That’s pretty radical talk, and I can’t imagine too many Christians who would quietly accept such words.

Lancaster was quick to point out that he feels brotherhood with all Christians as fellow disciples of Messiah, but on an institutional level, he has little in common with them.

So if we are reviled and rejected by Jews or Christians for our beliefs, perhaps we are partaking in the Master’s suffering in some small way, and bearing his reproach.

For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Hebrews 13:14

TempleThis is why we’re willing to suffer. Our hope isn’t in this world or the present institutional state of the Church. We are waiting for the city to come, “New Jerusalem,” if you will, the Messianic Age.

I should note that Lancaster believes the Hebrews letter writer didn’t know that Jerusalem would be leveled a few short years in the future, but the Holy Spirit knew, so portions of this letter, including the above-quoted verse, are prophetic. Once there was no Temple, the believing Jews could only turn to the Heavenly Temple and the Heavenly High Priest, Yeshua.

This is where our faith lies, not in Heaven but in the future Messianic Kingdom come to earth. The price we pay is to share in the trials, the reproach, and the rejection of the world around us including many or most religious institutions. But in that rejection, we must not give up our faith in our Master, lest we lose our reward in the world to come. Too many Messianic Gentiles have lost their faith in the Master and converted to Judaism as their “true love.”

Like Abraham, God sent us out from the accepted and the familiar into an unknown territory and requires that we accept a promise of what we can’t see or touch or hear (see Genesis 12:1-4). We endure difficulties today for the sake of the fulfillment of the future. It’s as if we are approaching the end of a Passover seder and we say symbolically, “Next Year in (Messianic) Jerusalem.”

I must say that listening to this particular sermon brought up some of the same issues I discussed in yesterday’s morning meditation. It’s difficult to discuss the theological and doctrinal differences between traditional Christians, Messianic Judaism, and Hebrew Roots without at least potentially stepping on someone’s toes. How do you say that you love your fellow brothers and sisters in the faith and yet also acknowledge some of the extreme differences in viewpoint?

Next week, I’ll write my review of the final sermon in Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews” series.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: A Great Cloud of Witnesses

The Bible says “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” Are the biblical saints of old watching us live our lives like characters in a bad reality TV show?

Hebrews 11 presents the Bible’s hall of fame of faith: The book of faith and hope. The writer of the book of Hebrews refers to the biblical saints as “a great cloud of witnesses.” What does that term imply? Study Hebrews 12:1-4.

To hear more teachings from Hebrews 11, listen to “The Book of Faith and Hope.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Forty-one: A Great Cloud of Witnesses
Originally presented on February 1, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin…

Hebrews 12:1-4 (NASB)

In last week’s sermon review, Lancaster blew through Hebrews 11 faster than I imagined, especially given how detail-oriented he’s been in addressing the other chapters so far. Of course, he’s devoted an entirely different sermon series to that one chapter, but I’ll have to listen to those fourteen sermons another time.

This week the focus is on how Chapter 11 affects the current material, namely Hebrews 12:1-4, but let’s stay with Chapter 11 for a little bit longer, particularly verse 2:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.

The New American Standard Bible translates the Greek word martus as “approval” and other English translations include “commended,” “their commendation,” “good report,” and “testimony.” The best word we could use in English though is “witness.”

legal witnessLancaster goes through the original meaning of this word which is where we get the English word “martyr.” Today, we all think of a martyr as someone who dies for his or her religion, but back when the Epistle to the Hebrews was being written, it meant a witness in a legal proceeding. You might think of the early believers being taken before a Roman tribunal and directed to renounce their faith, blaspheme the name of Jesus, and to worship a pagan idol. The actual testimony of the believing witness, if they were true to their faith, was to affirm their trust in Messiah and belief in the coming resurrection and Kingdom of God. The consequence for that affirmation was to be executed, hence the eventual change in meaning of the word “martyr” (so, no, some suicide bomber blowing himself up to kill a bunch of innocent people is not a “martyr”).

The readers of the Hebrews letter were in a similar position, but not relative to the Romans. The Sadducees, who were in control of the Temple, were after these Jewish disciples of the Master to renounce their faith in the resurrection and the life in the world to come, since Sadducees believed in none of that (see Acts 23:6-8).

This has applications for us today as disciples. First of all, the “witness” of our faith in terms of Evangelical Christianity is not really a witness at all. A bunch of teens from a church youth group ambushing people at a shopping mall with religious tracts is not a witness. Being a witness is being directly challenged to renounce your faith and yet holding fast to it anyway.

There are many Christians in atheist nations like China or in various Muslim countries who are witnesses, who can only save themselves from being put in prison or killed if they renounce their faith and, like the ancient believers before Roman tribunals, they hold fast and faithfully suffer and even die rather than betray Yeshua.

Compared to that, no one in the western nations, including the U.S., has their witness challenged significantly.

Or is that true?

Lancaster says our challenges are much more subtle:

  • Embarrassment
  • Social pressure
  • Moral relativism
  • Materialism
  • Sensuality
  • Self-indulgence

The world around us attempts to get us to renounce our faith by encouraging us to conform to progressive and politically correct standards. In fact, this manipulation is so subtle that you don’t even have to stop calling yourself a “Christian,” you can continue to go to church (at least certain denominations), and yet still conform to every single standard valued by progressive secular society.

michaelsonI couldn’t help but think of Jay Michaelson’s book God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality and the methods he employed to convince his readers that his understanding of the Bible, one that affirms and supports “loving same-sex couples” and “marriage equality” in the church and synagogue, is the correct and desired one.

If you remove the strong emotional components from the Michaelson book and look at it in terms of strategies and tactics, then it’s possible to view a parallel between the content of the book and what Lancaster says about how the Adversary seeks to remove, dilute, or delete our witness as Christians, to convince us to denounce Jesus so we can be just like everyone else.

Lancaster said in his sermon that one witness to our faith is lifelong, male-female, monogamous marriage, and he says the world laughs at this witness. Besides the issues involved in Michaelson’s book, how many couples, even Christian couples, have sexual relationships before marriage or outside of marriage, and have children outside of marriage? This is something of the norm in secular society and it seems the only people who actually want to get married are gays and lesbians, and that only because it’s still illegal in a dwindling number of states in our nation.

The world does work against us in many ways, challenging us, and demanding a witness to our faith. We need to look back to Hebrews 11, which is all about the many, many role models we have to look up to who were also challenged and yet never wavered:

…and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.

And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

Hebrews 11:36-40

If we think we have problems living Holy lives, look at the people, in this case, the prophets of old, who suffered, were tortured, murdered, lived desperate and difficult lives, and all of them who had gained a good witness of their faith, even though they did not receive anything they were promised by God, so that we too could be included in the promises of the future resurrection.

What Did I Learn?

The sufferings of the faithful we read about in Chapter 11 were their witness, their faith testified about them and still does every time we read the Bible. The “great cloud of witnesses” doesn’t mean the saints are sitting around in Heaven spying on our lives as if we’re part of a bad reality TV show. They aren’t witnessing us, their lives are a witness to us.

long-distance-runnerWe are like runners in a race. Those faithful witnesses have already run that race and won. We are still facing the challenges they overcame. They are our heroes and our guides. Their lives are our inspiration.

The central message of the sermon is “Don’t give up. You aren’t alone. Others have crossed the finish line — you can too.”

When my kids were young, we used to watch a variety of different cartoons including one about a group of martial artists who trained in weighted clothing in order to increase their strength.

Verse one of Hebrews chapter 12 says, “let us also lay aside every encumbrance (weight) and the sin which so easily entangles us…” If you’re going to run a race and your life, your eternal life, depends on successfully crossing the finish line, you need to be as light and strong as you can. “Weighted clothing” or the weight of sin will just slow you (and me) down. We need to endure because it’s a long race, not a sprint. And there are many “stumbling blocks” along the way, which is why we need to keep our eye on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of faith.”

No one’s perfect. No one’s faith is perfect, but then again, it doesn’t have to be. We are broken, just like the world around us, but the perfecter of the world is also the perfecter of our faith. If we keep our eyes on him, we don’t need to be perfect, we just need to keep paying attention and not to waver.

That bullet point list I posted above is a list of items designed to distract us and to change our focus. If we start paying attention to all that and let our attention wander, it’s easy to become very discouraged and even to give up. Even if we don’t think we’ve given up, it’s easy to slip into some model of “Christianity” that says we’re doing the right thing by ignoring the standards of God, difficult as they seem to be, and embracing the standards of people and of the culture in which we live. We may still believe we’re part of the “community of faith” and that we are doing good and showing compassion, but in fact, we have exited Yeshua-faith and joined the ranks of a faithless society more concerned about present appearances than future and eternal glory.

burdenA life of faith seems to be very weighty sometimes. I’ve felt it pressing down on me, and often the tonnage seems triggered by religious rather than secular people. But they can really do nothing if faith is strong. If you feel discouragement and are tempted to give up or even just lighten up, don’t blame the world, look to your own heart, your own faith, and your own stamina. Call on God to strengthen you and to see you through to the end of the race.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Ani Ma’amin (I believe)

What do Maimonides and the book of Hebrews have in common? Find out how the Talmud and the book of Hebrews intersect when it comes to the question of faith in Messiah. The book of Hebrews continues with a call to hold fast to faith in the coming of the Messiah.

References Hebrews 10:32-39; Isaiah 30:18; Habakkuk 2:3-4.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Forty: Ani Ma’amin (I believe)
Originally presented on January 25, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him.

Isaiah 30:18 (NASB)

Lancaster’s sermon took a different route this week, the long way around to Hebrews 10:32-39 through the above-referenced prophets, the Talmudic writings, and Mosheh ben Maimon otherwise known as Moses Maimonides or the Rambam.

Lancaster states that the above verse from the prophet Isaiah is very important as a Messianic prophesy. The Talmud interprets “How blessed are all those who long for Him” or “wait for Him” as those among the righteous waiting for the redemption of the Messiah.

Verse 20 says “your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher,” indicating that our Teacher, that is, Messiah, is currently hidden from us (or from Isaiah’s audience, the Jewish people) but that in the coming age, he will be revealed. Verse 21 continues “Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left,” speaking of walking in the Holy Spirit (the “word behind you”).

But when it says “therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you,” this isn’t speaking of Messiah, but of Hashem, of the God of Israel, for He waits for the Messiah, too…at least according to the Talmud.

Why would God have to wait? You’ll see in a bit.

Lancaster then shifted gears and started quoting from Tractate Sanhedrin about a 3rd century CE Rabbi who came across a Gentile who had discovered a scroll in the Roman treasury. Without going into all the details, the scroll seemed to likely have been looted from Jerusalem by the Romans, perhaps from the Temple itself.

The Rabbi, who believed the scroll to be an authentic Jewish Holy writing, purchased the scroll and discovered it predicted the end of the world and the coming of the Messiah in the year 4291 from Creation, with the final renewal of the world being accomplished in the year 7000.

ancient scrollsProblem is, the Jewish year 4291 corresponds to 531 C.E. which has long since come and gone.

The Talmud uses this story to issue a stern warning against attempting to calculate the dates related to Messiah coming and an admonition against those who insist on calculating such dates. Thus far, everyone who has attempted to predict the return (or coming) of Messiah has been wrong.

This is where Habakkuk comes in:

I will stand on my guard post
And station myself on the rampart;
And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me,
And how I may reply when I am reproved.
Then the Lord answered me and said,
“Record the vision
And inscribe it on tablets,
That the one who reads it may run.
“For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
For it will certainly come, it will not delay.
“Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith.”

Habakkuk 2:1-4

Within the context of Habakkuk, this does not seem to have anything to do with Messiah. Habakkuk had just heard from God that the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem was at hand because of their many sins. Habakkuk was upset, not that God had ordered the destruction, but that He had chosen an instrument for that destruction much more evil than Judah and Jerusalem. So he sat in a guard post and waited (probably for a long time) for God to answer his objection.

That said, the Talmudic sages interpret, especially verses 3 and 4, as very much having a Messianic application, and Lancaster agrees, specifically since the Talmud interprets this portion of scripture as stating the date of Messiah’s coming is hidden. I won’t go into the nuts and bolts of Lancaster’s explanation. The link to the recording is at the top of this missive so you can listen to the forty minute sermon for yourself.

But then we get back to why is even God waiting for Messiah? Why should God wait? Why not send Messiah now?

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

God’s justice (and I believe mercy as well) demands that He wait because those of us who also wait receive a blessing by the merit of the act of waiting, for as it says “Though he tarries, wait for it” (the Hebrew pronoun can also be “him”), and again, “the righteous will live by faith”, and as it says in Isaiah, “Blessed are all those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 30:18 NKJV).

Rambam
Mosheh ben Maimon, the Rambam

Many have been born, lived, and died waiting for Messiah and he didn’t come, yet their waiting wasn’t in vain, for by the merit of their faith, they gained eternal life in the resurrection.

I mentioned the Rambam above. He codified what is known as The Thirteen Principles of Faith, the twelfth of which states:

I believe with a complete faith in the coming of Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless every day I believe that he will come.

This is also known as Ani Ma’amin (I believe) and is traditionally sung at the conclusion of the Shacharit or Morning prayers. The Talmud states that such a lived faith in the coming of the Messiah equals performing all of the 613 commandments (and the version we have today was also organized by Rambam). Yes, it’s that important.

However, when Habakkuk says that “the righteous will live by faith,” he doesn’t just mean that they live a life of faith, but that they will merit life, eternal life in the resurrection, by clinging to their faith in the coming redemption of Messiah. This is an essential principle in Judaism, according to Lancaster, and not only do we see it in the prophets and the Talmud (and Hebrews), but the Apostle Paul referenced it in Romans 1 and Galatians 3. Instead of trying to figure out when Messiah will come (return) and only expecting him then, always expect him today and every day; always live a life of daily expectancy.

Then Lancaster (apparently) switches tracks and talks about how the passage from Habakkuk is very different in the Greek. Why is that important? Because Jewish teachers used the Greek translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament) or Septuagint, when teaching Greek-speaking Jews and Gentiles. The writer of Hebrews was addressing Greek-speaking Jews living in or near Jerusalem.

For yet in a very little while,
He who is coming will come, and will not delay.
But My righteous one shall live by faith;
And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.

Hebrews 10:37-38 quoting Habakkuk 2:3-4

Especially the last line seems quite odd: And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” Lancaster says this speaks of one who shrinks back or loses his faith, specifically in the coming of Messiah, for if one loses his faith in Messiah, he loses God’s favor.

But “My righteous one shall live by faith” in that even if Messiah does not come when expected or even in your lifetime or mine, we must live by faith so that we will live in the resurrection and not lose our place in the world to come. We must seek first the Kingdom as our focus.

Now (finally) Lancaster turns to Hebrews 10:32-39.

He gives a very brief summary of the Hebrews epistle, an exhortation to Jewish believers who because of their faith in Messiah, have been denied access to the Temple and the Priesthood, and who, for that reason, are strongly tempted to renounce their Messianic faith. The Hebrews writer is encouraging them to remain faithful because they always have access to the Heavenly Temple and Priesthood through Messiah as High Priest, and warning them of the consequences of losing faith.

“But remember in former days” is a reference to the early persecutions (read the beginning chapters of Luke’s Book of Acts including the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8) and the “murderous threats” of Saul (the beginning of Acts 9). They were persecuted in many ways and yet “accepted joyfully” those hardships, enduring in the faith. “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence” for in doing so, they would also throw away their reward. They needed to endure as they did before.

Hebrews then quotes the Greek version of Habakkuk, and you should see at this point how well it fits the flow of this part of the letter, and concludes (well, not really…it just concludes the artificial division of chapters):

But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Hebrews 10:39

But there’s more. I didn’t expect Lancaster to cover Chapter 11 as well, but when he did, it clicked right into place:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.

Hebrews 11:1-2

faithThis is the so-called “faith chapter” of the Apostolic Scriptures and Christians often cite it as a “stand alone” definition of what “faith” is, without considering how it fits into the overall message of the epistle.

The writer of the epistle has been encouraging his readers to maintain their faith in the Messiah’s coming, to not abandon that faith, even under the tremendous pressure of not being able to offer korban in obedience to the commandments, for in renouncing Messiah, they would also be renouncing their reward in the Kingdom.

The rest of chapter 11 is a list of examples of people of faith who maintained that faith even though they never saw the promised rewards in their lifetimes. Abraham was promised the Land but died never receiving the promise. So too did Isaac and Jacob. Read the chapter for yourself and see what it looks like now that you have the context Lancaster constructed around it.

Lancaster concludes his sermon by reading verses 32 through 40, but I’ll just quote a portion:

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

Hebrews 11:32-34

“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me…” The list of the faithful is endless, or seemingly so. It’s not like the writer of Hebrews is asking for the impossible, as if no one who came before ever exhibited such a faith, maintaining it even to the death. While modern religious Judaism doesn’t emphasize the Messiah’s coming all that much, in ancient days, the days of the prophets, the days of the apostles, and the days of the writers of the Talmud, it was much clearer that faith in the coming (return) of Messiah was the lynchpin of Jewish faith in God and the coming New Covenant times.

What Did I Learn?

I’ll never be a Talmud scholar, so all of the tie-ins from Talmud back into scripture are a revelation to me. Lancaster said that the writer of Hebrews and the other apostles read Habakkuk exactly the same way as the sages of the Talmud. This is a very important point because it re-enforces my emphasis that you cannot know or understand having faith in the Messiah unless you study Judaism! This is why I study from within a Messianic Jewish framework.

I hate to slam Christian studies and teachings because I have high regard for those people I know in the Church, but traditional Christian doctrine compared to Messianic Jewish (and other Jewish) studies is like the difference between an eighty-year old frayed black and white still photo and the latest vibrantly colored 3D motion picture in surround sound.

I hope I’m not overstating the metaphor, but a lot of these teachings in Messianic Judaism hit me like someone opened up my skull and poured in a couple of quarts of “Ah Ha! That’s what that means!”

I was also pleasantly surprised when Lancaster mentioned having read the biography of Brother Yun, an evangelist in Communist China who suffered terribly for his faith. I also read the book at the urging of a friend, and as a reminder that I can get tremendously caught up in the “head knowledge” of the Bible at the expense of a living faith in Messiah.

The message of the epistle to the Hebrews is also a message to us nearly two-thousand years later. The Jewish believers reading this letter had a faith in the return of the Messiah who had died, was resurrected, and ascended to Heaven about thirty years prior, within the living memory of a generation, and yet they were tempted to abandon that faith. We have possession of the same faith almost twenty-centuries after the event, and no one alive on earth is a direct witness today. If they were tempted living so close in time to the flesh and blood Jesus, how much more so will we be tempted, especially in a culture of atheism, humanism, and progressiveness, to be lured into abandoning our faith in the return of Messiah?

Which is why we can’t. Which is why Hebrews 11 is so important to us as an example of living and dying and yet not receiving the promise of his return.

For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Romans 11:15

lightIf some of the Jews in Paul’s generation not coming to faith in Messiah is compared to death, but their coming to faith is compared to the resurrection. So it is with us. For those who have never come to faith and possibly never will, we can have pity, but we must mourn tragically for those who once had faith and deliberately set it aside for whatever they thought was better, perhaps under some form of social pressure to do so.

I mourn for those every day and I know more than one. Pray that they haven’t shut up their ears permanently, and that they will go from being “cast away” by their own decision, to “acceptance” once again and “life from the dead.”

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Full Assurance of Faith

“I’m not perfect, just forgiven.” “I’m not holier than thou, I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” Something has gone terribly wrong with our thinking if we believe that the only difference between a believer and a non-believer is that the believer is forgiven and assured of eternal life. That’s a useless, selfish, hypocritical religious idea which deserves a slap in the face. It’s not worthy of the name “Christian,” the name of Messiah, and it sullies the reputation of our holy Master. Hebrews 10:18-31 contains a stern warning and exhortation to the upward call of discipleship and the demands of new-covenant living.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Nine: Full Assurance of Faith
Originally presented on January 18, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This doesn’t have anything to do with the topic, but I listened to Lancaster’s sermon with my laptop in my sukkah a few afternoons ago. Yes, WiFi is great.

Lancaster started out by discussing a song by Paul Wilbur called I Enter the Holy of Holies. I liked a number of Wilbur’s songs but don’t have an opportunity to listen to them anymore. But this specific reference has less to do with worship music, and more to do with the topic of our study:

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus…

Hebrews 10:19 (NASB)

But how can we, or anyone but the High Priest, enter the Holy of Holies? Even the High Priest enters the Most Holy Place only once a year on Yom Kippur. The song is nice. It’s inspiring. But it’s not meant to be a theological roadmap as such. Let’s see a little more context:

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:19-22

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

Matthew 27:50-51

Lancaster says it’s important to realize that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is speaking figuratively, not literally. These verses aren’t permission for just plain ol’ folks, Jews or otherwise, to go “tramping” through the Holy of Holies. Even Jesus couldn’t enter the Holy of Holies of the earthly Temple in Jerusalem (before or after his death and resurrection) because he is not an Aaronic priest.

TempleThese verses are to indicate that we have access to God through the Heavenly Temple and our Heavenly High Priest, who is indeed Yeshua. We can draw near by appealing to our High Priest, our mediator of the New Covenant.

The veil is symbolic of his flesh, as the verses above tell us. Also, to “draw near” is technical language for bringing a sacrifice. When a person, usually Jewish but Gentiles could do so as well, desired an encounter with God in the days of the Temple, they could bring a sacrifice, a korban, to the Temple and indeed, physically, literally, draw near to the Divine Presence.

The readers of this letter are, according to Lancaster, Greek-speaking Jews living in or near Jerusalem, disciples of Yeshua who have been denied access to the Temple. The Hebrews letter writer is trying to reassure them that if they cannot draw near to God in the earthly Temple, they can still do so through their faith in the Heavenly High Priest who presides over the Heavenly Temple.

But this has applications for us as well. After all, there is no Temple in Jerusalem today, so even if we desired with all our heart to draw near to the Divine Presence, it is impossible to do so.

But Lancaster says that we are designed to desire closeness with God. How can we do this? We have the blessings of the New Covenant, but the New Covenant promises have yet to arrive. How do we summon the future into the present?

Through the verses I quoted above. Through having “confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus…He inaugurated (the way) for us through the veil (which is) his flesh.” We have “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies (are) washed with pure water.”

The writer of Hebrews is speaking about all this in the present tense. We, and the letter’s original readers, are supposed to be transforming into “Kingdom people” right now. That’s how we “draw near”.

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

Ezekiel 36:24-27

The writer of Hebrews could well have been thinking about Ezekiel 36 when he wrote about “hearts sprinkled clean” and “bodies watched with pure water” which is also part of the Yom Kippur service. But the exile hasn’t ended, the Jews have not be regathered, and no, we do not yet have a new heart and a new spirit. That’s for the future.

But as people of faith, we are responsible to live as if the New Covenant age is already here, even though our current world is still full of sin. We must live a transformed or at least a transforming life, rather than a life just like everybody else.

Lancaster calls us tokens of the future in the present world. We are ambassadors of the Messianic future, and that should show in our lives; we should live supernatural lives.

At the very top of this blog post, I inserted a quote that introduces today’s sermon. Lancaster considers it insulting that Christians cheapen themselves by saying they’re (we’re) just like everyone else, only forgiven, as if we live lives identical to our secular counterparts and the only distinction between them and us is that we are forgiven because we believe in Jesus.

synagogueSure, we’re not perfect, but we should be living lives Holy and specifically distinct from our secular neighbors. Just as the readers of this letter were tempted to waver and even to renounce their faith for the sake of possibly regaining access to the Jerusalem Temple (verse 23), believers today waver from their faith and live watered down lives rather than pursuing a closer encounter with God.

Next, Lancaster touched on a subject that has been on my mind lately.

… and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

Why is the letter writer saying this? In Jerusalem, the faithful among the Jews met daily at the Temple for the prayers. As far as we know, they had no other meeting place, no “Messianic synagogue” as it were.

Why do we worship together? Is the letter writer even issuing a directive that we can generalize to us, to me today? People meet to sing, worship, pray, study, listen to sermons, but most or all of that could be done at home. Lancaster says the Hebrews letter specifies the more important reasons. To encourage one another in our faith and confession. To build each other up. To apply positive peer pressure to live more Godly lives. It’s sociology, not theology.

In my current situation, my most likely options for further fellowship are in the virtual, that is, the online realm, but I don’t know how well that works if verses 24 and 25 are the key reasons for congregational connectedness.

Then Lancaster gets very passionate:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.

Hebrews 10:26-27

Lancaster calls these verses the “smack down” of this chapter. Once we become believers, there’s no turning back. Either we commit wholeheartedly to living a transformed life and continually becoming perfected in our faith, or we join the enemies of God in harsh judgment and its consequences.

The Death of the MasterLancaster said that, “Messiah died to take away sin, not to excuse it.”

This reminded me of how even among different churches and synagogues, people are dancing on both sides of some serious social topics in an attempt to be people of faith and yet fit in with the rest of the world and what the world (though not necessarily God) thinks is important and right. If you are living a Holy life, your life should not be in synch with the popular and progressive imperatives of our secular society (and political affiliation is beside the point).

Sorry.

Now this is interesting:

Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 10:28-31

This is still in the present tense and remember the writer and readers of this letter are all Jewish. The letter writer is impressing upon his audience, using a lighter to heavier argument (we’ve seen this before), that if setting aside the Torah can result in a death sentence, how much more serious is it to trample underfoot the Son of God. Yes, it’s serious for a Jew to violate the Shabbat but it’s even more serious to consider the righteous and Holy sacrifice of Messiah as unclean and common.

This is a stern warning that even under extreme provocation, the consequences of abandoning faith in Messiah are terrifying.

You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.

1 John 3:5-6

This makes it sound like we should never, ever sin, not even once after we become believers, but what the apostle is saying is that we should continually strive to become more spiritually perfected, not that we’ll ever be perfect this side of the resurrection, but that we shouldn’t just put up with a certain level of sinning in our lives as if it is inevitable.

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14

The Jewish PaulEven Paul said he hadn’t obtained perfection but it was a goal he always moved toward, he pressed on, even though he hadn’t yet put his hands on it. That’s what we’re supposed to do.

Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.

Philippians 3:15-16

For Lancaster, this is a key statement. We need to keep striving to live by the standard that we are pursuing, the standard of a Holy and righteous life, to live, not natural lives as the rest of the world does, but supernatural lives. This is how we draw nearer to God and draw the Messianic Age nearer to our present reality.

What Did I Learn?

When I was reading in Matthew 27 about the tearing of the veil, I noted the verses that immediately followed:

The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the holy ones who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

Matthew 27:52-53

No other Gospel writer mentions this event, but for Matthew, who was writing to a Jewish audience just as the Hebrews writer was, one of the strongest promises of the New Covenant is the resurrection of the dead. The death of Jesus was immediately followed by the tearing of the veil and the resurrection of people who were recognizably Jewish tzaddikim must have been terrifically obvious signs of who and what Jesus was and is. Even a Roman centurion present picked up on it:

Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Matthew 27:54

I had noted each of these events separately, but putting them together relative to the New Covenant gives them a lot more meaning than just a series of supernatural events related to the death of Jesus. This moment in time formally set into motion the beginning of the entry of the New Covenant into our world and these events were part of the evidence.

But that was almost two-thousand years ago and most people in the world today don’t even think of the Bible as evidence of anything real and applicable to their lives.

That’s why they have us.

Lancaster said that we have to make a difference and we do that by adhering to a standard set before us by God, a standard to live lives of Holiness and excellence, as if the New Covenant were already here, as if we had already been resurrected, as if our hearts of stone had already been replaced by hearts of flesh and we were filled with the Holy Spirit to such abundance that we all “know God” in a manner greater than all the prophets of old.

Imagining myself living a “supernatural life” isn’t always an easy thing for me. I can’t picture myself “checking my brain at the door,” so to speak, and just relying upon my feelings as the means by which I draw nearer to God. I know that isn’t what Lancaster (or those few others in my life who encourage me to also be more “supernatural”) is saying, but it feels like what he’s (they’re) saying.

with godI think what he’s actually saying is that we can live better lives behaviorally, and we can be better people than we think we are. If we tried to be better just by force of will, we might make some temporary achievements, but most of us would fall back into our usual flight patterns after a while. Our natural methods wouldn’t work out in the long run. Only the supernatural methods, by faith, by continually striving for an authentic encounter with God, will grant us access to transforming and perfecting our lives, little by little, bit by bit, until the evidence of God is undeniably visible in everything we do.

Then we will be the evidence that God is real and that His promises are true. They will happen because they’re happening now, through us.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Single Sacrifice for Sin

Hebrews 10:10-18 presents the death of Yeshua of Nazareth as the “single sacrifice for sin,” but does that make Yeshua a sin offering like those once offered in the Temple? In what sense is Yeshua a sacrifice? How can he be a sacrifice when his death does not accord with the Levitical laws for the sacrificial services whatsoever? This teaching, based upon the final chapter of D. Thomas Lancaster’s booklet What about the Sacrifices? answers the difficult question of how the death of the Messiah provides atonement for sin.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Eight: Single Sacrifice for Sin
Originally presented on January 11, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
After those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws upon their heart,
And on their mind I will write them,”

He then says,

“And their sins and their lawless deeds
I will remember no more.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10:10-18 (NASB)

In today’s sermon, Lancaster continues to build on the points he made in previous weeks, including last week’s sermon in which he strongly differentiated between the nature, character, and purpose of the Temple sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood, and the purpose of Jesus as the single and final sacrifice for sin in the Heavenly Temple.

Now he specifically takes on a really big issue that even many Christians struggle with: just how does the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross take away sins and why doesn’t that mean God approves of human sacrifice?

LambThe “official” answer of the Church is that the sin and guilt sacrifices as well as the annual Yom Kippur sacrifices of the Temple took away the sins of the people of Israel, sacrifice by bloody sacrifice, year by year until Jesus was crucified, taking our sins away forever. Then the Temple system was rendered meaningless, having been replaced once and for all (Hebrews 9:27-28, 10:12) by the blood of Jesus, for as John the Baptist said (John 1:29), “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

But we have some problems with this theological theory. The Torah is very specific about what qualifies as a sacrifice according to God. Lancaster laid out a very convincing list:

Condition 1: An acceptable sacrifice must be an unblemished, undamaged, uninjured kosher animal, and usually a specific animal or set of animals relative to the particular sacrifice. Jesus wasn’t an animal of any kind, he was a man, and he certainly wasn’t unblemished or uninjured, having been whipped and bloodied before ever being nailed to the cross.

Condition 2: Any sacrifice must be made in the Temple, according to the Torah. Jesus was executed outside the walls of Jerusalem, not in the Temple.

Condition 3: The blood of the sacrifice must be splashed on the altar. This did not happen with the blood of Jesus.

Condition 4: The sacrifice must be performed by Levitical priests. Jesus was killed by people who weren’t even Jewish, the Romans.

Condition 5: The sacrifice must be slaughtered in a highly specific manner, with the throat cut by a very sharp knife. The animal must be bled out and suffer no pain whatsoever. If it suffers, it is disqualified as a sacrifice. Jesus certainly did suffer and suffer greatly, and no knife came anywhere near his throat.

Condition 6: God forbids human sacrifice and finds it repugnant.

All this means that Jesus absolutely, positively could not be a literal sacrifice for the atonement for sin and guilt.

Lancaster brought up the obvious objection of the Akedah or the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19) but the flaw here is that God did not allow Abraham to actually kill Isaac. It was a test, not a human sacrifice.

This is the problem with Christianity reading from the Gospels and Epistles backward into the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. If you start with a New Testament mental and interpretive template, it forces standard Christian doctrine into the Old Testament text. Unfortunately, this results in erroneous conclusions based on Christian tradition.

So if the blood of goats and sheep never, ever took away sins in the first place, and Jesus can’t in any sense be considered an acceptable sacrifice, how does his death take away sin? Are the anti-missionaries and apostates right? Is Christianity a crock?

First of all, the writer of the Book of Hebrews says that the death of Jesus takes away sins once and for all in his single sacrifice:

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:10

After that single act, Jesus waited and still waits.

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.

Hebrews 10:11-13

LevitesOn Earth, the Levites had to daily minister in the Temple, but the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem were never designed to take away sins, but instead, to cleanse the bodies of those desiring to draw near to the Divine Presence physically (Hebrews 9:13). The sacrifice of Jesus was qualitatively different in that it enables people to draw near to God spiritually (Hebrews 9:14). But now that the single sacrifice of Jesus has been made, he need offer no other sacrifices in the Heavenly realm, but waits seated at the right hand of the Father for the final battle to begin, when his and Israel’s enemies will be laid at his feet.

Verses 14-18 cite the New Covenant, specifically how God will write His Torah on the hearts and minds of the people of Israel and he will cleanse them of sin forevermore. In fact, verse 12 says for all time,” which Lancaster interprets as from the beginning of human history and the sin of Adam and Havah (Eve) to the end. So the blood and death of Jesus cleanses you and me of our sins two-thousand years after he was slain, and cleanses Abraham of his sins two-thousand years before the crucifixion, even though Jesus was executed at a single point in time, the early First Century CE. I’ll get back to this in a bit.

But first, we have to solve the mystery of how Jesus can be an effective sacrifice to atone for sin for all time and yet not be a literal Temple sacrifice. I mean, when John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God” do you really think John believed Jesus was a four-footed animal who grew wool and went “baa”? Of course not. John wasn’t being literal, the was being “literary”

The hearers and readers of the teachings of the Bible, that is, the ancient Jewish people, received these teachings within a certain conceptual context. They understood the Hebraic metaphors, symbolism, and wordplay being employed by the Prophets and the Sages of each time period in which the Biblical text was authored. As Christians almost twenty centuries later, we can make the mistake of either allegorizing the Bible, rendering God’s promises to Israel as “really meaning” promises to “the Church,” or we can be overly literal and attempt to directly compare the sacrifice of a sheep on the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem on Passover with the execution of a late Second Temple itinerant Rabbi, and one who ultimately was proven to be Moshiach, by a bunch of Roman soldiers at the command of the local Roman governor.

So if Jesus wasn’t a literal sacrifice, and comparing him to a lamb and the spilling of his blood to the splashing of the blood of lambs on the altar is metaphor, how does his sacrifice work?

self sacrificeThe answer isn’t very obvious in the Bible, which tends to throw a lot of people, but it has to do with God’s quality of absolute justice and something called “measure for measure.” That is, the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished.

Period.

Problem is, we see very little of that kind of simple justice in the real world:

Righteous are You, O LORD, that I would plead my case with You; Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You: Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?

Jeremiah 12:1

Good question.

According to Lancaster, the Pharisees answered Jeremiah’s (and our) question this way:

  1. Death is not the end. If it were, then our world, and God, is unjust.
  2. Justice is delivered in the resurrection when the righteous and the wicked are judged before God, with the righteous being rewarded and the wicked being condemned.

The righteous may suffer in this world, and even suffer horribly, but they will be rewarded in the Messianic Kingdom and the life in the world to come.

…strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Acts 14:22

Of course, even the best among us isn’t completely sinless. Even Lancaster admitted to having committed acts of which he is still ashamed and probably will be for the rest of his life. It can be said that we suffer in this world, at least in part, as a consequence of our own imperfections and our own sins, and thus, when we die, it can be said that our death is just because we have sinned. Even Paul said “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

But what if a totally and completely sinless person should die unjustly? If he’s not suffering and dying in his own sins, when why is he suffering and dying at all?

Another explanation of AND THOU SHALT MAKE THE BOARDS FOR THE TABERNACLE. Why does it say FOR THE TABERNACLE? Should it not rather have said ‘ into a tabernacle ?  R. Hoshaya said: Because the sanctuary stands as a pledge, so that if the enemies of Israel became deserving of destruction, it would be forfeit as a pledge. Moses said to God: Will not the time come when Israel shall have neither Tabernacle nor Temple? What will happen with them then? ‘ The divine reply was: ‘ I will then take one of their righteous men and retain him as a pledge on their behalf, in order that I may pardon all their sins. Thus too it says, And He hath slain all that were pleasant to the eye (Lam. II, 4).

-Exodus Rabbah 35:4

This Talmudic text points back to Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant, and specifically verse 11 which states:

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities. (emph. mine)

The Death of the MasterAlthough the traditional Jewish interpretation of these verses render the suffering servant as Israel, I have to agree with the Christian view in this case, and say that the Prophet is writing about Messiah, who as an individual person and who was completely without sin, suffered and died to justify the many.

The concept of the Suffering Tzaddik is known in Rabbinic literature and Lancaster even delivered a sermon on the topic. Although I haven’t listened to that sermon, I wrote a commentary of my own on the same subject several years back. Here’s part of one of the texts I quoted:

“… suffering and pain may be imposed on a tzaddik as an atonement for his entire generation. This tzaddik must then accept this suffering with love for the benefit of his generation, just as he accepts the suffering imposed upon him for his own sake. In doing so, he benefits his generation by atoning for it, and at the same time is himself elevated to a very great degree … In addition, there is a special, higher type of suffering that comes to a tzaddik who is even greater and more highly perfected than the ones discussed above. This suffering comes to provide the help necessary to bring about the chain of events leading to the ultimate perfection of mankind as a whole.”

Derech Hashem (The Way of God)
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
As translated and annotated by Aryeh Kaplan
Feldheim Publishers
Jerusalem, 1997, p. 122.
Quoted from Yashanet.com

To extend the thought, if a tzaddik or righteous one among the sages may die and atone for the sins of his generation, how much more so can death of the great tzaddik, the most righteous one, who was completely without sin, take away the sins of all peoples in all generations across the vast span of time.

Thus, the death of Jesus is effective to take away the sins of the world, but not because it was based on the sacrificial system that took place in the Temple as commanded by the Torah of Moses. It was effective based on God’s justice and the principle of “measure for measure.” If the completely sinless Jesus died an unjust death, to balance justice, since he did not die for his own sins, in the merit of his death, his blood atones for the sins, not just of many in a single generation, but of all people across all generations.

This also means that any comparison or “competition” between the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrificial system of the Temple is like comparing apples and airplanes. The one has nothing to do with the other. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was employing metaphor so he could get his point across, not saying Jesus was a literal lamb, or a literal sin offering. This is like saying Jesus is a Priest of the Order of Melchizedek. Jesus didn’t really establish and belong to this “order” of priests (and he certainly wasn’t literally Melchizedek). The Hebrews writer was using metaphorical language to say how Jesus could be High Priest in the Heavenly Court, even though he can’t and won’t qualify to be a Priest of any kind in the Earthly Temple (including the future Temple) in Jerusalem.

What Did I Learn?

The biggest thing for me was nailing down the “time span” within which the sacrifice of Jesus atoned for sins. Lancaster says that metaphysically, it covered all sins across human history, from Adam and Eve in the Garden, to the very end of the age including our age and beyond.

…“for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”

“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Romans 11:25-27

King DavidThis seems to answer the question, “are the Old Testament Jews saved?” The answer is “yes” if they sincerely repented of their sins. Like David’s lament in Psalm 51, it wasn’t the sacrifices of bulls, goats, and sheep that atoned for his willful sin with Bathsheva, it was repentance and a broken heart.

Lancaster didn’t address this, but it brings up the question of a Jewish person and if he/she must believe in Jesus in order to be saved. A Christian would say “yes,” and further, a Christian (at least some of them) would say that only Jews who believed in Jesus after the crucifixion were saved, since no one comes to the Father except through the Son (John 14:6). However, if that is literally true, than all of the Jewish people who were born, lived, and died before Jesus (and the rest of humanity as well) were automatically condemned to eternal damnation.

But that violates the language of the New Covenant promises as well as Romans 11 and Hebrews 10. While I don’t understand it completely, the Jewish people, not just in the age when Jesus returns, but across time, will “mourn for him as one mourns for an only son” (Zechariah 12:10).

These conclusions won’t sit well with most Christians (and most Jews, since Lancaster will be accused of playing “fast and loose” with the Talmudic texts), especially the Bible literalists, but they have the benefit of making the older scriptures harmonize rather than drastically conflict with the Apostolic Scriptures. If we are to consider the Bible as a single, unified document describing God’s overarching redemptive plan for Israel, and through her, for the rest of the world, then we can’t have that plan jarringly switch tracks somewhere between the end of the Gospels and the beginning of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.

If the Bible doesn’t appear to have a seemless flow that preserves God’s promises and integrity, and avoids making Him a liar by pulling the biggest “bait and switch” with Israel the world has ever seen, then the problem isn’t with the Bible, it’s with how the Bible is interpreted.

“And their sins and their lawless deeds
I will remember no more.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10:17-18

Restoration
Photo: First Fruits of Zion

The consequence of the New Covenant promises to Israel is just that. On the merit of the death of the great tzaddik Yeshua who is the mediator of that covenant, God remembers the sins of Israel no more and writes His Torah within them so they will never sin again (but see last week’s review for why sin offerings will continue, even in the absence of people sinning). From that time on, with all sins forgiven, there will no longer be any offering for sin, for there will be no need for Israel to make sin offerings. They have drawn near to their God in Spirit and in truth.

May it be so for all of us who believe and make teshuvah before Hashem by the merit of Moshiach.

Tonight begins the festival of Sukkot. Chag Sameach Sukkot.