Tag Archives: Kingdom of God

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Enter My Rest

Three possible interpretations of Psalm 95:11 prepare us for understanding the discussion in Hebrews 3:7ff regarding the generation in the wilderness that did not enter into God’s rest. An important preface to the Sabbath discussion of Hebrews 4.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Ten: Enter My Rest
Originally presented on March 9, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This lesson covers all of Hebrews 3 and most of Hebrews 4, but it all hinges on an understanding of Psalm 95:

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would listen to his voice!
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your ancestors tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they do not regard my ways.”
Therefore in my anger I swore,
“They shall not enter my rest.”

Psalm 95 (NRSV)

There are three possible ways of looking at this Psalm that affect today’s study. But before getting into that, we need to ask, what is “God’s rest?”

Lancaster took his audience through a quick Hebrew language lesson. The word “Shabbat” is based on the Hebrew verb “Shavat” which means “to rest.” But that’s not the word used in Psalm 95:11. Lancaster says it’s the Hebrew word “Minuchah” (noun) which is also based on a Hebrew verb for “to rest.” Lancaster cited another reference to the Shabbat in verse 7: “O that today you would listen to his voice.” In this context, “today” is a Hebrew idiom for Shabbat . Also, to “listen,” or more accurately rendered “to hear,” is idiomatic for “hear and obey,” and is better rendered in English as “to heed.”

So it sounds like those who did not “heed” (hear and obey) God’s voice will not enter His rest, which we could interpret as Shabbat. But who are we talking about?

How long shall this wicked congregation complain against me? I have heard the complaints of the Israelites, which they complain against me. Say to them, “As I live,” says the Lord, “I will do to you the very things I heard you say: your dead bodies shall fall in this very wilderness; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against me, not one of you shall come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become booty, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have despised. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness for forty years, and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day a year, you shall bear your iniquity, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.” I the Lord have spoken; surely I will do thus to all this wicked congregation gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.

Numbers 14:27-35 (NRSV)

Mount SinaiBecause of the faithlessness of the Israelites, because they failed to hear and obey God and fulfill the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to enter and take the Land (all except Joshua and Caleb who desired to do so), they shall not enter God’s rest. This generation of Israelites, the ones directly redeemed from slavery in Egypt, would die in the desert and not enter.

Not enter what?

The first interpretation says they would not enter the Shabbat, but that’s ridiculous because they kept the Shabbat for the entire forty years they lived in the desert.

The second interpretation seems to make more sense. They did not enter the Land of Israel. Is that correct, though? I suppose it is literally, but could something else be going on?

Lancaster relates that according to Rabbi Akiva inTractate Sanhedrin, the generation in the wilderness would not enter the age to come. Now this gets a little confusing as sometimes this means the Messianic Age and on other occasions, it means everlasting life or eternity. Is Akiva saying the generation in the desert, to put it in Christian terms, are “damned?” Rabbi Yochanan disagrees and says that they will enter the world to come, that is, eternity, and offers accompanying proof texts.

Let’s get back to the word “Minuchah”. What does it mean? What can it mean? It can mean “rest” or “resting place”. After the Torah service, when the Torah scroll is returned to the ark, the ark is referred to as God’s resting place. One interpretation of Isaiah 66 is that God’s resting place can be the Temple or even Israel in the Messianic Kingdom.

So we have three possibilities. God’s rest or resting place is:

  1. Shabbat
  2. Israel
  3. The Messianic Kingdom

To find the correct interpretation for our study of Hebrews, we have to ask the Apostles or at least the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews. Starting in Hebrews 3:7, it says “according to the Holy Spirit,” implying that David, who wrote Psalm 95, was inspired by the Spirit. Verses 7 thought 11 quotes Psalm 95. Then, the letter writer states:

Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.

Hebrews 3:12-14 (NRSV)

The writer of Hebrews is comparing the situation of his audience, who are suffering from a profound crisis of faith at losing access to the Temple (or at least potentially so) to the generation in the wilderness who lost faith and failed to obey God. Whatever fate the generation in the wilderness suffered for faithlessness, if the readers of Hebrews also loses faith and becomes disobedient, that consequence will be theirs, too.

soul_cries_outSo what would they lose? Shabbat observance? Unlikely. The Land of Israel? They, according to Lancaster, were living in Israel and since Lancaster dates the letter at about 63 CE, before the destruction of the Temple and the great exile, he doesn’t believe the writer or readers of Hebrews suspected any of that was coming. Entry into the Messianic Era seems to be the correct interpretation and what Lancaster is saying is that, just as the generation in the desert lost their place in the coming age of Messiah (which doesn’t mean they lost eternal life in the age to come, necessarily) for their faithlessness, if the readers of Hebrews continue on their path of faithlessness, they too will lose their place in the Age and Kingdom of Messiah when he returns.

So the letter functions both as an encouragement and a cautionary tale.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it.

Hebrews 4:1 (NRSV)

There’s still time. This could go either way. If the readers of the letter choose to emulate the faith of Joshua and Caleb, who did merit to enter Israel and also a place in the Messianic Kingdom, then they too will share in that promise. However, if they should be like the faithless generation who died in the desert and lost entry into the Messianic Age, this too will be their consequence.

Oh, in verse 2, when the text says, “good news came to us just as to them,” that doesn’t mean Moses preached the Gospel of Jesus to the ancient Israelites, but rather the “good news” for the ancient Israelites is that the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was at hand, the promise of taking the Land for their own possession. Just “go get it.” The good news for the readers of Hebrews and for the rest of us is much more than personal salvation and eternal life, it is to enter the Messianic Kingdom by the merit of the Master, Yeshua.

Lancaster throws a monkey wrench into his well-oiled machine when verses 4 and 5 mention the “seventh day” again. So does this mean we are talking about Shabbat after all and not the Messianic Kingdom? Verses 7 and 8 also mention “today,” which as was mentioned above, is idiomatic for Shabbat.

However there is this:

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God

Hebrews 4:8-9 (NRSV)

So entering Israel isn’t “the rest” and losing Israel though exile isn’t losing the rest. What is that rest, then? Lancaster ends today’s sermon with that question. Come back next week when we all hope he can pull an answer out of this “cliffhanger.”

What Did I Learn?

Let’s revisit a few verses:

For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

“As in my anger I swore,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”
though his works were finished at the foundation of the world.

Hebrews 4:3-4 (NRSV)

minyanA Kingdom that was already established since the foundation of the world and is not here yet should remind you of Lancaster’s sermon on Partisans which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. It also reminded me of Brad Young’s book The Jewish Foundation to the Lord’s Prayer which I reviewed last week. The Kingdom of God or the Messianic Kingdom, according to Young, is something each of us, as believers, makes up, as if we are individual bricks being used to construct that Kingdom. All together, we are the Kingdom, and every time someone comes to faith, they are added to the overall structure. But to lose faith and abandon the Master is to remove ourselves from the structure and we lose being part of the Kingdom. I think that could be what the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews is saying. Perhaps this is also what the generation in the desert lost through faithlessness.

One of the greatest continual debates in Christianity is whether or not a believer can lose salvation. Rabbi Akiva said that the faithless Israelites did lose their place in the world to come (eternity) but Rabbi Yochanan disagreed. Perhaps they did lose their participation in the Kingdom of Heaven, but this is different from eternity. A great mystery how this would work, I must admit. And here we are sitting on the edge of Lancaster’s cliff, hanging around, so to speak.

May next week bring and answer and more illumination in this fresh perspective on Hebrews.

Oh, I just want to remind you to actually listen to the forty minute sermon (the link is at the top). I didn’t write down everything Lancaster taught.

Review of “What About the New Covenant,” Part 1

“I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”

Jeremiah 31:31

Does the New Covenant really replace the Old Covenant? Christian replacement theology is solidly based on a misunderstanding of the meaning of the new covenant. The church teaches that the new covenant cancels the Torah and God’s covenant with the Jewish people.

Messianic Judaism teaches that Yeshua did not abolish the Torah, but if that’s true, what about the new covenant? Doesn’t the new covenant of grace and faith replace the old covenant of works and law? In five engaging lectures, Torah Club author D. Thomas Lancaster digs into the Bible’s prophecies to dispel many of the common myths and misunderstandings about the new covenant.

-from the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) webpage for the
What About the New Covenant sermon series

Introduction to the Series

About eighteen months ago, I began my personal investigation of the covenants in an attempt to understand how Gentiles (including me) were able to have a covenantal relationship with God without converting to Judaism. This investigation resulted in an eleven (twelve, really) part blog series I euphemistically called “The Jesus Covenant” which I started here. It took over six months of study and anguish, but I finally arrived at a place where I could be at peace about where I fit in the New Covenant as a Gentile.

When I received the five-part audio CD lecture series called “What About the New Covenant” from FFOZ in the mail several days ago, I was interested in how my discoveries and conclusions map to those of theologian and teacher D. Thomas Lancaster. Was I completely off base or would Lancaster confirm that I am standing on solid, Biblical ground as far as my understanding of the covenants, and especially the New Covenant?

The material on this set of audio discs is repurposed from several sources, including parts of Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, FFOZ’s Torah Club Volume 5: Depths of the Torah, and Lesson 3 from FFOZ’s HaYesod Program.

That said, organization and presentation of this information is completely new, and these teachings, once “trapped” within much larger tomes and recordings, have been “freed” so we can access specifically what Messianic Judaism teaches about the New Covenant. One caveat: this is Messianic Judaism as First Fruits of Zion sees, understands, and practices it. I should emphasize like any other Judaism or any other Christianity for that matter, Messianic Judaism isn’t a single, monolithic entity and opinions among the various groups may differ somewhat.

Session One: The Covenant Maker

The first session is nearly fifty minutes long and as you might imagine, is pregnant with both amount and depth of information. Here, Lancaster takes his listeners on a grand tour of all of the covenants God made with humanity and Israel (all of the covenants except the Noahide covenant were made with Israel) and attempts to answer the all important question, “What is a Covenant?”

A good question has a long afterlife.

-Ismar Schorsch
“What Do I Look at When I Pray?” (pg 382)
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemini
from his book Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

It’s true, we don’t really understand what “covenant” means in our world today. The only covenant we have left in modern times is the marriage covenant, and even that one has been nearly destroyed by our lack of understanding of the binding nature of covenants. If we did understand, divorce wouldn’t be such an epidemic, at least among the faithful.

noah-rainbowI mentioned the Noahide covenant that God made with all life, including all of humanity. God created a set of obligations for humanity and in exchange for obedience, God promised not to destroy the world again by flood. The sign of this covenant is the rainbow we periodically see in the sky (see Genesis 9 for details).

But it’s not until Lancaster begins talking about the covenant God made with Abraham and all of Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob, the Jewish people, that we begin to understand the nature of this covenant and all the covenants to follow.

The first big point to get is that all subsequent covenants build on prior covenants rather than replacing them. In fact, this is really important for ancient and modern Israel because whenever Israel violated the covenant made with God at Sinai (such as the incident of the Golden Calf recorded in Exodus 32), it was God’s promises made in the Abrahamic covenant that allowed Him to repeatedly redeem Israel. You might want to review God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants by looking at Gen. 12:1-3, 7, and 22:18. You’ll also see this covenant being inherited by Abraham’s son Isaac in Gen. 22:18.

Interestingly enough, although it is commonly believed that Abraham had no obligations he had to fulfill apart from participating in the sign of this covenant, which was circumcision for himself and all the male members of his household, this is not actually true. Abraham was required to have a lived-out faith that God periodically tested. And the results of those tests really, really mattered.

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Genesis 22:15-18 (NRSV)

Abraham and the starsGod said “Because you have done this…I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven.” These are conditions. You did this and in response, I will do that. Abraham had to demonstrate perpetual fidelity to God by faith, trust, and obedience, and doing so, God responded by fulfilling the covenant promises He made to Abraham and his descendants.

It is the same for us as James, the brother of the Master famously wrote in James 2:14-26. Lancaster says we are justified by faith and works, which is a rather radical thought in traditional Christianity, but as you’ll discover, his presentation of covenants including the New Covenant, is also not the “norm” from an Evangelical perspective.

As a side note relevant to justification and deeds, see Derek Leman’s blog post Our Deeds are Not Filthy Rags.

As far as the “duration” of the Abrahamic covenant, according to the Apostle Paul:

Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ. My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.

Galatians 3:15-17 (NRSV)

In other words, later covenants do not get rid of, annul, cancel, or make obsolete earlier covenants. In addressing the covenant God made with Abraham, Paul says it’s forever. A later covenant can only ratify an earlier one, not abolish it.

Lancaster spends some time on the Mosaic covenant, the covenant God made with the Children of Israel, that is, Abraham’s, Isaac’s, and Jacob’s descendants, at Sinai. One important point he makes is that this later covenant builds on the earlier one and in fact, the making of this covenant actually fulfills sections of the earlier, Abrahamic covenant. One example is the continuation of the promises that Abraham’s descendents would possess the Land of Israel, cementing this promise by establishing the laws specific to the Jewish people living in that Land.

Another important issue Lancaster brought up is the difference between the covenant and the Law. The Torah is not the Sinai covenant, it represents the conditions of the covenant, defining the responsibilities of each party: God and the Children of Israel. It also defines the sign of the covenant which is the Shabbat.

This sign is unique in that it is not a manifestation in nature, such as the rainbow, or a physical condition or procedure, such as circumcision. Shabbat is an “island in time” or, as Lancaster quotes Abraham Joshua Heschel, “a sanctuary in time.”

Therefore the Israelites shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign forever… (emph. mine)

Exodus 31:16-17 (NRSV)

Notice that the Sinai covenant and its sign are forever and perpetual. No exchanges or replacements allowed.

As I mention above, whenever Israel disobeyed the conditions of the Sinai covenant, according to those conditions, God punished Israel. There is no provision in the covenant for its annulment. All covenants God made with Israel are forever. Is that clear?

King DavidLancaster moved on to describe the Aaronic covenant, which is the promise that Aaron’s descendants will always be High Priests, and the Davidic covenant that states David’s descendants will be Kings over Israel. The conditions state that should a King disobey, he would be disciplined, but God would not remove his love from the Davidic dynasty (see 2 Samuel 7). The Davidic covenant is also the hope of the Messiah, for a sinless King must rule one day over Israel, that is, King Messiah.

So far, all of these covenants are built one on top of the other. Each later covenant expands upon the previous covenant in some way. But what about the New Covenant?

First, let me, thanks to Lancaster (though I knew this already), relieve you of a burden. The New Testament, that is the collection of scriptures from Matthew through Revelation, does not equal the New Covenant. I heard a highly intelligent, well-educated, and abundantly accomplished Pastor tell me once that the New Testament is the same thing as the New Covenant and I almost fell out of my chair.

According to Lancaster (and I agree with him), the New Testament is a collection of scriptures that record how Yeshua (Jesus) initiated some of the conditions of the New Covenant, but it is not the covenant itself. Lancaster (and again, I agree) says that the New Testament would be better named “The Apostolic Writings” or “The Apostolic Scriptures”. Just as the Torah is not the Sinai (or “Old”) Covenant, neither is the “New Testament” the New Covenant.

So where do we find the New Covenant? It’s all over the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, but as you hopefully already know, the key scriptures are these:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NRSV)

I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Ezekiel 36:24-28 (NRSV)

Taking all this together, first notice that the New Covenant is made only with Judah and Israel. No mention is made of the Gentiles and particularly “the Church” at all. It seems that outside of the Jewish people, God has no covenant relationship with humanity and never will. Also notice that nothing in this language whatsoever changes, annuls, cancels, or abolishes anything in any of the previous covenants God made with Israel. That means, among other things, that the Torah is perpetual and that Jesus didn’t lie:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

Matthew 5:17-18 (NRSV)

CreationJesus never intended to come and abolish what God established in relationship with Israel, and the Torah will not change at all until Heaven and Earth pass away and until all is accomplished.

Well, Heaven and Earth are still here as far as I can tell. But what needs to be accomplished? I mean, didn’t Jesus say “It is finished” on the cross right before he died? (John 19:30) (Hint: If he said “It is finished” and then died, it’s very likely that what was finished was his suffering).

I said before, echoing Lancaster, that Jesus initiated the New Covenant by his death and resurrection. Jesus himself said that the bread and wine the Apostles ate at the last meal with the Master (and Lancaster taught that after a covenant was made in the ancient Near East, a meal was always eaten together by the participants of the covenant) were the New covenant in his body and blood (Luke 22:19-20), so the New Covenant started at that point. Jesus got the ball rolling. But what happened to the covenant after that?

Look at the passages from Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 again. Do you see all that happening? How can the Word of God be written on our hearts if we as believers still sin? How can the New Covenant be initiated but not completed?

For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.” For this reason it is through him that we say the “Amen,” to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 1:20 (NRSV)

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

2 Corinthians 5:5 (NRSV)

What is this promise and guarantee? It’s the sign of the New Covenant. Lancaster says that the New Covenant encompasses all of the previous signs (Shabbat, for instance) but also has its own sign. It’s also unique in that the sign functions as sort of a down-payment or promissory note that Messiah will return to complete what he started, that is to deliver on the rest of God’s promises outlined in the New Covenant language.

That’s why we as believers have the Holy Spirit but still don’t see evidence of the full arrival of the Messianic Kingdom, the Kingdom promised by the New Covenant. It is a promise of what is yet to come.

I said before that the New Covenant doesn’t annul or change any of the previous covenants but then why is it “New?” Look again at Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Judah and Israel are still obligated to obey God’s Torah but the big difference, the only real difference, is that this time, God will make it possible for man to obey.

Many Christians say that God gave Israel the Law to prove that they were incapable of obedience to God’s standards and, once He made that point, He replaced the Law (Torah) with the Grace of Jesus Christ, which doesn’t rely on man having to do anything, including, if you’re a Calvinist, exercising enough free will to accept that free gift of salvation. Lancaster says that God didn’t change His expectations of obedience, there has always been grace, and that knowing man cannot obey God consistently out of his own will, God places His Spirit in man and God writes His Torah on man’s heart, circumcising that heart, so that man will “naturally” obey God’s desires. That’s the “New” in “New Covenant.”

This is a beautiful way to dispense with the requirement in the Church that we retrofit modern Christian theology into the Old Testament and invent new interpretations to explain Christian doctrinal dissonance in trying to make the older and newer scriptures fit together. Lancaster creates a seemless progression across all scripture that doesn’t make it necessary for us to “jump the tracks” at Acts 2 and invent a never prophesied entity known as “the Church”.

But I mentioned before that the New Covenant, like all of the prior covenants except the one made with Noah, were made with Israel, that is the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is really good news, the gospel message to the Jewish people, but what about the Gentiles? Have we been left out in the cold after all? Where is the gospel for us?

In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:13-14 (NRSV)

New CovenantThe Apostle Paul (Romans 11:11-24) said that the God-fearing Gentiles are grafted into the Commonwealth of Israel through fidelity to the Jewish Messiah King, that is, to Jesus, and that by swearing such allegiance and in obedience to our King (which I speak of in this blog post), we are added in to that commonwealth alongside the born citizens of Israel, the Jewish people.

Lancaster was quick to point out that such “grafting in” does not make Gentile believers (i.e. Christians) Jewish nor does it obligate us to the Torah in the same manner as the Jews. Yes, we Gentile believers are obligated to some of the conditions in the Torah, but that obligation is unique to us as Gentiles, and many other conditions are only applied to Jewish people, whether believers or not.

Again, this does not mean there is one, identical application of the Torah mitzvot for both Jews and Christians, and it absolutely doesn’t mean that the Church, under the New Covenant, has replaced Israel and the Jewish people or anything in the Old(er) Covenant made at Sinai…or any of the other of God’s covenants.

…remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Ephesians 2:12-13 (NRSV)

This particular doctrine on the New Covenant is certainly a lot easier to make sense of and follows the flow of the entire Bible much better than the traditional Christian understanding outlined, for instance, by gentlemen such as Dr. Thomas Schreiner in his book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law which I reviewed a time or two.

I’m grateful to Lancaster and the other fine folks at First Fruits of Zion for producing this teaching and making it available to people like me. It certainly is a breath of fresh air and illuminates the Bible in a manner that we’ve gotten far away from in Christianity over the long centuries. It’s time to take back the lessons taught by the Apostles and to lead a new “reformation” of our own in the Church.

I strongly suggest that you acquire this audio series for yourself. I didn’t include everything Lancaster taught on disc one (though you must imagine I did given the length of this blog post) and he presents further information that solidifies his argument regarding the New Covenant.

I look forward to writing reviews on the rest of the series and having Lancaster show me just “how deep the rabbit hole goes” (with apologies to Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne).

The Truncated Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I mean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 56:7

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

Zechariah 8:23

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

Psalm 122:1-2

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

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

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

Acts 10:44-46

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

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

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

The Tenth Man

“Our world is a banquet,” proclaims the Talmud. “Grab and eat, grab and drink.”

Those who arrived during the early hours of the banquet, went about the business of feasting and dinning in a most professional and methodical manner. First, they sampled the appetizers just enough, mind you, to properly whet their appetites. Then, they proceeded up the ladder of courses and wines, carefully negotiating their way to gastronomic satisfaction par excellence.

But what of the group who arrived a few scant minutes before midnight, the hour when the tables were cleared, the chairs stacked and the doors bolted shut? For them to attempt to follow the course outlined by the intricate rules of dinner etiquette would only guarantee that the doors would will slam on their empty stomachs. “Just grab!” we tell them. Grab meat, salads, soup, wine and fish never mind the order and proportion. It’s a race against the clock: Grab and eat, grab and drink….

In earlier generations, there was a well-defined “Standard Operating Procedure” for those who consulted the Torah’s spiritual menu for the banquet of life. No one, for example, would have ventured to sample the esoteric wine of creation’s secrets before filling his belly with the “meat and potatoes” of Talmud and halacha. No one would have been so presumptuous as to believe that he could refine his nature and character before he had perfected his behavior and made his every act, word and thought to utterly conform to Torah’s directives.

All this, however, was a luxury of generations bygone. Today, we are rapidly approaching the climax of history, the day when Moshiach will herald a new era of goodness and perfection, yet will also bring down the curtain on the struggles and attainments that stem of our currently imperfect state. So grab! Grab another mitzvah, master another, yet deeper, facet of Torah. Never mind the “Standard Operating Procedure” – strive for the ultimate, now.

Commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers
Tammuz 21, 5772 * July 11, 2012

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

Luke 14:12-24 (ESV)

At our local Reform/Conservative synagogue in years gone by, they had an annual event called Feast of Torah which, as you can see if you click the link, is a multi-day affair combining food, social gathering, art, and study.

I’m rather taken by the picture of sitting at God’s table; at His banquet, feeding off of His teachings, joining with the other hungry students, consuming the Word, and drinking in wisdom. Of course, that’s all rather poetic and, as I’ve said before, the reality of a life of faith is that it can be rather punishing and even diminishing.

The Talmud refers to the world as our banquet, but Jesus teaches that such is the Kingdom of God. While I would hardly ever be invited to a Talmud study, according to the Master, the Banquet of the King is available to everyone. Don’t think you’re too good for it just because some of the guests are poor, crippled, blind and lame. Remember, the wealthy and powerful; the princes and kings have also been invited. It’s just a matter of who is willing to come and feast and who will decline and end up being locked out.

Inclusion, as it’s used on progressive social and political circles, refers to the concept that all people and groups, especially those who have been marginalized or abused in the past by the larger society, should be mainstreamed with the greater populace so that everyone carries equal value and dignity within the cultural context. That has been applied to all people of color, the LGBT community, and anyone else who has experienced discrimination by the primarily rich, white, male “ruling class” of the western world.

Now let’s take one really giant step backward and try to see the big, big picture.

From this point of view, we are looking at the panorama of the “Grand Canyon” of all eternity and we see that God is the ultimate inclusionist. As least according to this teaching in the Christian Bible, God invites and welcomes absolutely everyone who is willing to come to Him. In fact, He probably welcomes those folks who even the staunchest political leftists would hesitate to invite to their table. Politics and social standing are irrelevant. Wealth or lack thereof is irrelevant. Age, sex, color, nationality, and everything else is irrelevant at this level. All that is required to enter the banquet hall is a willingness to be sensitive and to respond to the voice of God.

While this is something we all should aspire to, most of the world-wide human population currently disdains God and ridicules His people as they represent archaic reminders of a simple, primitive past, and who inappropriately try to apply ancient Jewish tribal customs (in the case of religious Jews and Christians) to the Information Age.

And yet, it should be for us like it is for the recent bar mitzvah, who now finds that nine Jewish men are waiting for him to arrive so they can have a minyan and begin to daven.

Today’s daf continues discussing the halachos of determining when a child attains majority. The Otzar HaYir’ah, zt”l, points out that we see the greatness of being a Jewish man from his ability to combine with nine others and form a minyan. “Imagine nine outstanding tzaddikim who join together to daven. These tzaddikim may be the greatest the world has ever known, yet without a tenth man they may not do anything more than any other nine Jews. They may not recite kaddish or kedushah. Nor can they conduct the repetition of the amidah or read publicly from the Torah. But if the simplest Jew who has emunah joins their group, he makes a minyan. Now they can do all the aforementioned and give God special pleasure— all thanks to that simple Jew!” It is fairly common to find a minyan composed of exactly ten people. It is also all too common to have exactly nine and wait a while for a tenth man.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Taking His Word for It”
Niddah 52

I can only imagine what it must be like, to be a boy of barely thirteen, inexperienced and insecure, being the indispensible man who must arrive before nine august tzaddikim can recite kaddish. Christianity has no such rite of passage that allows the new initiate to be included with such elevated company and to be valued as an integral part of the minyan and ultimately, the community.

Imagine if all God’s children were given such an opportunity.

In Yisroel Cotlar’s article Honor a Holocaust Victim by Tattooing Her Number?, he responds to the question about a Jewish teenager wanting to tattoo her grandmother’s concentration camp number on her arm to honor her. Cotlar states that this may seem a sort of appropriate memorial to some, but also reminds us that inclusiveness can be a memorial, too.

This story…demonstrates that children need to get the message that Judaism is alive and well, and that it is a life of joy (not only a life of oy). Museums and memorials are incredibly important, but children should also be taught to be excited about the future of Judaism; they should feel a sense of purpose and pride as Jews.

A few years after the Holocaust, an influential Jewish leader made a request of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory: “We need your help and cooperation to perpetuate the memory of the millions tragically killed in the Holocaust. We decided it would be most fitting for each family to set aside one empty chair at their Passover festive Seder meal. The chair will commemorate the millions who sadly cannot attend. Rabbi, would you encourage your followers to join in this campaign?”

The Rebbe responded (paraphrased), “Your idea is a nice one, but with all due respect, instead of leaving the chair empty, let us fill that chair with an extra guest. Invite a Jew who would otherwise not participate in a Seder. This would be a true living legacy and a victory for the Jewish nation.”

While in a certain sense, I will always be alone in this life, the fact that I am also invited to the “recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11 ESV) means that it won’t be so forever.

Gene Shlomovich just posted the blog article How many people will be present on the Judgment Day as a reminder that there will be an incredibly vast multitude who will one day stand before the Throne of God.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…” –Revelation 7:9 (ESV)

A life of faith can be very isolating. Most of the “cool kids” don’t want to have anything to do with you. Sometimes that’s even true within the confines of the church. But according to the teachings of the Master, a day will come when not only will each of us will be invited into the banquet, we will be valued as who we are when we get there. We won’t simply lost in the crowd.

And we won’t be alone anymore.

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” –Revelation 21:3-4 (ESV)

But until then…