Tag Archives: kingdom of heaven

The Humble Desert

This is the second of two blog posts I wrote several weeks ago. I don’t know when or if I’ll write anymore.

Ohr HaChaim explains the first verse in Sefer Devarim in a novel way: He says that Moshe was alluding to nine attributes that are necessary for those who go in the path of the Torah.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.132
Sunday’s commentary for Parashas Devarim
A Daily Dose of Torah

Although this commentary was written for a Jewish audience, we non-Jews in Messiah who seek his Kingdom may glean some insights into the necessary attributes for us to turn to Hashem, God of Israel, in repentance and humility.

The following is a truncated version of this list of nine attributes. For the full text, go to pp. 132-133 of the aforementioned portion of A Daily Dose of Torah

  1. The word “on the other side,” is an allusion that one should acquire the trait of Avraham, as it says (Bereshis 14:13) “and told Abram, the Ivri…” [The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 42:13) says that our forefather Avraham was called the “Ivri” because he was on one side…of the world, and the rest of humanity was on the other. The Eitz Yosef (ad loc.) explains that this refers to Avraham’s recognition of his Creator, challenging the status quo of his time, when idolatry was the norm.]
  2. A person should constantly have self-reproof in mind, as the Gemara says (Berachos 7a): “One self-reproof in a person’s own heart is better (for his self-improvement) than 100 lashes.”
  3. One should be humble, as the Gemara says (Eruvin 54a): A person should conduct himself as if he were but a humble desert…
  4. One’s humility should follow the proper course as delineated in Rambam (Hilchos Dei’vos Ch. 5). [Rambam writes at length there about the proper conduct one should display, both in public and private.]
  5. The Mishnah (Avos 3:1) says that two of the things one should remember so as not to come to sin are that a person ends up buried in the ground, and that he will have to stand in judgment before Hashem for all his deeds. In Avos 2:10, the Mishnah tells us to repent every day, lest one die without repentance.
  6. The virtuous say (Chovos HaLevavo, Shaar HaPerishus 4) that one should be outwardly cheerful and inwardly mournful.
  7. One should have a pure and clean heart, as Dovid HaMelech prays in Tehillim (51:12), “A pure heart create for me, O God.” One should distance himself from hatred, jealousy, strife and bearing grudges.
  8. One should regularly learn Torah, as it is stated about our forefather Yaakov (Bereshis 25:27): “Yaakov was a wholesome man, dwelling in tents,” which refers to the study tents of Shem and Eiver (Rashi ad loc.).
  9. One should not passionately pursue things that seem valuable, meaning, the wealth of the physical world, because one who is following his heart’s desires is not doing God’s work.

How can this be applied to the non-Jew in Messiah? We can only look to those texts in our Bible, enshrined in the Apostolic Scriptures, that describe what is required of us through Messiah as a result of his humble birth, his life among Israel, his death at the hands of the goyim, his miraculous resurrection, and triumphant ascension.

MessiahThere are two general models by which we non-Jews may learn our proper behavior as disciples and perhaps look to the above-listed nine attributes: The behaviors of our Master, Rav Yeshua, that we find recorded in the Gospels, and what the Apostle Paul taught, as well as mitzvot we see the righteous Gentiles of that time performing, also chronicles in the Apostolic Scriptures.

Let’s take another list of those nine attributes and see if they make any sense when applied to a Gentile disciple of the Master.

  1. To be separate from the rest of mankind. Are we Christians “called out” from the mass of general humanity to be something special to God?
  2. To constantly reproof ourselves. Reproof is just a fancy word meaning rebuke, reprimand, reproach, or admonition. Applied to a believer who sins (and who doesn’t sin, even among the redeemed Gentiles?), we should be our own worst critics, for self-reproof is better than being “called out” because of our sins by others.
  3. To be humble. Looking at Eruvin 54, the relevant portion states: “If a person makes himself [humble] like a wilderness on which everyone tramples, [Torah is given to him like a Matanah (gift),] and his learning will endure. If not, it will not.”
  4. I don’t have access to Rambam’s lengthy discourse on humility, so no illumination will come from his insights, at least not in this small write-up.
  5. Avos 3:1 seems pretty self-explanatory. Once you fully realize that you are mortal, an end will come, and you will stand in judgment before a righteous and just God, should you continue to sin? And yet we do all the time. How wretched we are.
  6. Outwardly cheerful and inwardly mournful. Sounds like Matthew 6:16.
  7. In order to have a pure and clean heart, we would have to be in a constant state of repentance, which seems pretty consistent with what we’ve read so far.
  8. Regularly learn Torah. That fits in with what we generally assume about Acts 15:21 but, if we expand that idea to regularly studying the Bible, and all Bible learning could be considered “Torah” or “teaching” in a way, then why couldn’t we benefit from this?
  9. What is most important to us? A nice house? An expensive car? Watching the most recent superhero movies in the theaters? What did the Master teach in Matthew 22:36-40? What did he teach in Matthew 6:19-21?

The Jewish PaulAlthough the Master appointed the Pharisee Paul to be the emissary to the Gentiles, and tasked him to bring the Good News of Messiah to the people of the nations of the world, Paul was not commanded to convert those Gentiles into Jews. Although Paul brought many non-Jews into Jewish social and worship contexts to teach them to understand such foreign (to them in those days) concepts as a monotheistic view of One God, who and what “Messiah” is and what he means, and what the “good news” is to Israel and how it can be applied to the rest of the world, at some point, he had to realize based on the sheer number of Gentiles in the world in relation to the tiny number of Jews, that the Gentiles would quickly develop their own communities, congregations, and perhaps their own customs, halachah, and praxis, independent of direct (or even indirect) Jewish influence. The tiny Apostolic Council of Jerusalem couldn’t hope to administer a world wide population of Gentiles.

Two-thousand or so years later, Christianity and Judaism, having traveled along widely divergent paths, seem like an apple and an orange trying to find common ground and not doing a very good job of it. Judaism isn’t what links Jews and Gentiles in Messiah. Judaism is what links Jews to other Jews. It’s what links Jews to Torah. It’s what links Jews to Israel.

Judaism isn’t what teaches the apple and the orange that they are both fruit (assuming you’ve seen the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding). The promise of living in the Kingdom of Heaven, otherwise known as the Kingdom of God, or even the Messianic Era…this is what we have in common, all of us, all of humanity…all people everywhere, or at least those who make teshuvah, turn to God, and who answer the call to be redeemed.

But Jews are part of the Kingdom by covenant. The path for the rest of us is more complicated, at least once you set aside the notion we’ve been taught out of a truncated Gospel, the notion commonly taught in most Christian churches.

Although Messianic Judaism in its various modern incarnations is a very good place to learn about how God’s redemptive plan for Israel, and through Israel, the rest of the world, is really supposed to work, it can also (and certainly has in many cases) lead a lot, or many, or most non-Jews associated with Messianic Judaism to some very confusing conclusions.

Learning from within a Jewish context of one sort or another is valuable, but none of that means we non-Jews are supposed to consider Judaism a permanent destination. Our destination lies elsewhere.

Yeshua’s (Jesus’) central message was Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near, not “Believe in me and you’ll go to Heaven when you die.”

Sadly enough, Christianity widely teaches that Paul’s central message was “humans are saved from sin by believing in Jesus.” So either Paul completely turned the good news of Messiah on its head, so to speak, or Christianity totally misunderstands Paul.

For people like me, that is, non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah, it is vital to comprehend what the Master taught about the Kingdom and then see how Paul interpreted those teachings as applying to the people of the nations. Only understanding that gives me a clear picture of the actual context in which God expects people like me to operate and what I’m supposed to do with all this information.

Apostle Paul preachingI shouldn’t have to look far. Paul’s discourse to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch where he addressed Jews, proselytes, and non-Jewish God-fearers should tell the tale and show us what he taught that so excited the Gentiles.

As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.

The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us,

‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles,
That You may bring salvation to the end of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).’”

When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region.

Acts 13:42-49 (NASB)

You should read all of Acts 13 for the full context, keeping in mind that Luke probably wrote down only a short summary of Paul’s complete address to the synagogue.

We do know that Paul advocated for redemption of the Gentiles through Israel’s redemption, and that the news among the Gentile God-fearers was so well received during Paul’s first Shabbat visit, that multitudes of non-Jews, most of whom were probably not God-fearers and in fact, most of whom were likely straight-up pagans, enthusiastically showed up on the next Shabbat, dismaying the synagogue leaders to the extreme, but attracting a lot of excited Gentiles to the “good news.”

That good news wasn’t Judaism. The local Gentiles always knew that they could undergo the proselyte rite to convert to Judaism (and some few of them actually did). Paul wasn’t preaching for all Gentiles to convert, he was preaching the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven, where all people could receive the Spirit of God, could be reconciled to the Creator of the Universe, and receive the promise of the resurrection and a place in the World to Come.

This was as open to the Gentiles as it was to any Jew.

Verse 38 of the same chapter says that Messiah proclaimed forgiveness of sins (through teshuvah or repentance) to even the Gentiles, something most of the Goyim (and probably most Jews) hadn’t even considered possible before, especially within their polytheistic family and social framework.

The synagogue was where Gentiles had to go, at least initially, because that was the only place in town where anyone taught anything about the God of Israel and the meaning of Messiah’s message. Like I said, Judaism isn’t the final destination for the Gentile. It was and perhaps sometimes still is the place we need to go in order to learn that our final destination is the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s where we need to focus our attention.

alone-desertIf we get too caught up in trying to “belong” to Judaism, we are either going to become frustrated when it doesn’t work out that way, or offended and angry when Jews in Messiah see we Gentiles as interlopers and poachers of their territory.

In some ways, that’s probably what caused a lot of the problems in Gentile integration into Jewish social and community circles that we find in Luke’s “Acts” and Paul’s epistles.

Rather than trying to bulldoze my way into Messianic Judaism, I’m determined to become a humble desert, to be the dust under everyone’s feet. In the siddur, it says “To those who curse me let my soul be silent, and let my soul be like dust to everyone.”

All I can do is to continually repent before the Throne of God, try to live my life in humility, and seek to behave in a manner pleasing to my Master so that one day I may enter the Kingdom…

…even if it is like dust seeping in through the doorway.

The Torah states, “You shall trust wholeheartedly in the Lord, Your God” (Deuteronomy 18:13).

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, known as the Chofetz Chaim, used to say, “The Torah obliges us to trust wholeheartedly in God … but not in man. A person must always be on the alert not to be cheated.”

The Chofetz Chaim devoted his life to spreading the principle of brotherly love, the prohibition against speaking against others, and the commandment to judge people favorably. Though he was not the least bit cynical, he was also not naive. He understood the world and human weaknesses.

In Mesichta Derech Eretz Rabba (chapter 5) it states that we should honor every person we meet as we would (the great sage) Rabbi Gamliel, but we should nevertheless be suspicious that he might be dishonest.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
as quoted at Aish.com

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What’s Yours is Yours

While every Jew is commanded to place a mezuzah on his doorway, the commentaries raise the question of whether a building that is owned in partnership by a Jew and a non-Jew also requires a mezuzah. [Of course, the Jewish partner would have to be the one who fulfills this obligation. Since non-Jews are in no way bound to follow the dictates of the overwhelming majority of the mitzvos of the Torah, no-obligation — financial or otherwise — can be placed on the non-Jewish partner to fulfill this mitzvah.]

Rashba (to Chullin 136a) observes that the answer to this question may be understood from a Gemara in Chullin (135b). The Gemara lists several mitzvos that, when the Torah commands them, it specifies that they must be done with an object that is “yours.” Some of the examples mentioned in the Gemara are obligations of giving terumah (the first portion of the crop) and reishis hageiz (the first shearing) to the Kohen [where the Torah tell us (Devarim 18:4): “The first of your grain, wine, and oil, and the first of the shearing of your flock shall you give to him”]…

…that these mitzvos are commanded only when dealing with an item that is totally yours…A field or animal that is partially owned by someone not obligated in these areas — a non-Jew — is not included in these directives.

-from A Taste of Lomdus
The Shabbos Commentary on Parashas Eikev, p. 60
A Daily Dose of Torah

I’ve had little motivation to write any of these “mediations” lately, but then someone contacted me via email and asked if I knew anything about this person.

If you click the link and read the article “My Long Road Home” authored by Yehudah Ilan (probably not his original name), you’ll discover the story of a person who grew up in a Christian home and after much Bible study, transitioned first into Messianic Judaism, and then shot completely out the other side, finally converting to Orthodox Judaism.

Over the years, I’ve appreciated the educational context Messianic Judaism and various ministries have provided for my elucidation into a better understanding of the Bible than the one I previously possessed. Of late though, many changes have been taking place in my life, and they’ve cast my role within any form of Judaism (and particularly Messianic) into question.

brain hack
Image credit: bebrainfit.com

First and foremost, I have a lot of personal “reinventing” to do, although I’ve come to think of my near-future tasks and goals as “rebooting and hacking”. But a singularly important aspect of how I plan to “hack” my life to make necessary changes and (hopefully) improvements, is what to do about my relationship with God.

While Messianic Judaism as a Judaism has afforded me certain intellectual and spiritual advantages over what I’ve experienced within the Church, I’ve come to realize there’s a difference between learning from within a Jewish perspective (as much as I can apprehend such a perspective, my not being Jewish) and actually having any real involvement “within” Judaism.

As I’ve been told time and again, Messianic Judaism is a movement by and for Jewish people who wish to experience and explore their discipleship under Messiah Yeshua as Jews.

I agree with that statement and support it.

But, and I’ve written about this many times, where does that leave Gentiles?

I’ve written about the answer many times, too. There are any number of Messianic congregations that welcome non-Jews as members, either primary or ancillary, and those non-Jews can have fulfilling roles within such a community.

If you, as a non-Jew, are interested or even fascinated with the benefits offered by a Messianic Jewish worship and learning experience, then I encourage you to seek such communities out, either in the physical sense or online. Just be careful about the doctrine and theology, and what sort of practices some of these groups are calling “Jewish”.

But even becoming involved in an authentic Messianic Jewish community, there’s a catch and a danger. There’s the risk of becoming confused and losing your way.

Since Jesus put on tefillin every day, I started putting on tefillin. Jesus did not eat shellfish, so I stopped eating shellfish. Jesus knew Hebrew and Aramaic, so I learned Hebrew and Aramaic. The more that I studied the New Testament from a historical perspective, especially the elements of the life of Jesus, the more Judaism I began to practice and the more Christianity I began to doubt or reject.

We were living in mid-central Minnesota in the boondocks, with no Jews for miles, and I would walk around town wearing a kippah and tzitzit. We built a kosher sukkah in our back lot and lit a Chanukah menorah in the front window.

coffee and studyLearning from Judaism isn’t the same as being required to practice Judaism.

Being devoted to Yeshua as the first fruits of the resurrection and the arbiter of the New Covenant and coming Messianic Kingdom is not the same as being devoted to the practice of Judaism for the sake of the Messiah being Jewish.

Yes, if you’re Jewish, then your devotion to God is expressed through the practice of Judaism.

But if you’re not Jewish, your devotion to God is to be focused on the coming Kingdom of God and whatever place the nations will have in such a Kingdom.

The recent Republican Presidential candidate debates, the various news stories (scandals) about Hillary Clinton, and many other political and social events are rapidly convincing me that this nation and our planet are not doing well, and they’re not going to get better any time soon.

Politics and political correctness are doing nothing to unite American citizens. In fact, they’re doing the opposite. People in this country are becoming more divided and more polarized every day. Whoever is elected the next President in our nation isn’t going to save us. He or she, in all likelihood, will just continue to travel on a path that will further divide us and result in an increase in hostility of American against American. There’s also our recent participation in events that have increased tension and threats of nuclear war in the Middle East.

There is only one Savior, one Messiah, one King. Our hope is in him, not just the hope for the Jewish people, although that’s his primary mission, but also for the world. Through saving Israel, Messiah will save the whole planet. He will rescue the devoted remnant of Jews and Gentiles, returning the Jews to their land, to Israel, and establishing peace and security for the rest of us as well, and for our nations.

But for that to happen, we, the devoted disciples among the nations, must not confuse Judaism with the worship of God. Judaism belongs to the Jewish people, not to the rest of us.

Some few Gentiles are called, for whatever reasons, to convert to Judaism (and who knows, maybe Yehudah Ilan was one of them), but that is not the path the rest of us are supposed to take.

I said there was a danger in a Gentile operating within Messianic Judaism, the danger of losing your balance. It exists, but I don’t want to overstate my point.

synagogueMany non-Jews have found a safe and secure place within Messianic Judaism and are firm in their identity as a “Messianic Gentile” (for lack of a better term).

But it’s not for everyone. I’ve determined it’s not for me for a few simple reasons. If my wife were Jewish and Messianic, there would be no dissonance in my particular “orientation” and my family would be united with me in how I understand God, Messiah, the Bible, and everything.

But they’re not. My wife is absolutely not Messianic, and she is definitely Jewish. She sees me as a Christian and, for the most part, we don’t speak of religion. When she talks about Judaism and what Jews believe, I don’t comment for the sake of peace in the family.

I’ve learned from difficult experience that for me to actively practice any form of Christianity or Messianic Judaism publicly and in community is not sustainable in my marriage. That’s not my wife’s fault…it’s the result of nearly twenty centuries of Christian-Jewish enmity, with the Jewish people usually getting the short end of the stick.

From her point of view, me going to Church or any sort of “Messianic” group is “sleeping with the enemy” (so to speak). No, she’s never said that, but we’ve been married for over thirty years. I think I know a few things about her by now.

But the other reason I’m pulling back from Messianic Judaism is that it’s just another system. Christianity is a system containing a lot of little subsystems…denominations and such. Judaism is system also containing subsystems, ways of orienting individual members toward God and community. The former system welcomes everyone as long as you comply with the requirements of the system. The latter system welcomes Jews and occasionally non-Jews (depending on which subsystems are involved), but it’s more closed because it’s serving a people and a nation, not just “believers”.

Messianic Judaism requires the non-Jew, at least at the level of the local community, to comply with the requirements of the system, but by definition, the requirements are heavily biased toward who really belongs in that system: Jews.

In quoting from A Taste of Lomdus above, I was hoping to illustrate the sense of belonging that Jews have within Judaism and relative to the Torah, even if Gentiles are somehow involved. In a joint Jewish-Gentile venture, only the Jews are obligated to what belongs to them: the Torah and the mitzvot.

I didn’t quote the part that said if a Jew and non-Jew lived in the same home, the Jew would still be obligated to put up mezuzah, even when a Jew would not be obligated to put up mezuzah if he/she owned an office building or other business with a non-Jew. I guess that means it is appropriate for my wife and I to have mezuzah on the doorposts of our home, not for my sake certainly, but for hers because she’s Jewish and the mitzvah belongs to her.

Becoming confused about what belongs to Jewish people exclusively and what belongs to the rest of us at least occasionally results in non-Jewish people making mistakes such as this one or even this one. You either decide the only solution to understanding the Bible and responding to God is to convert to Judaism or you can choose to deliberately seize Judaism and apply it to a non-Jewish life.

skyI can do neither. However,  there are still parts of the Bible that show God also accepting people of the nations into the coming Kingdom of Heaven (which isn’t Heaven in the sky but the Messianic Kingdom on Earth). We have a place, not as Jews nor as Gentiles practicing Judaism, but as people of the nations, just the way we are.

That’s all I can look forward to as a flawed and erroneous disciple of the Master, but I have a lot of work to do before I can even claim a toehold in that territory.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get there.

There are some people who sometimes read my blog and who only choose to contact me if I have offended them or, more to the point, if I’ve written something wrong, or something they object to, about their group or organization. I don’t want to harm anyone, but only “pinging” me to object to something isn’t a very good way to maintain a relationship.

Then there are some of you who have been very supportive of me, in spite of my obvious failings as a writer, a disciple, and a human being. Thank you.

There’s a quote attributed to multiple sources including Plato, Philo of Alexandria, Ian MacLaren, and John Watson:

Be Kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

I’d like to think that the appeal of this blog wasn’t that I was perfect (and I know I’m far, far from perfect) or some sort of “Mr Know-It-All.” I think the appeal was because I was and am fighting a hard battle, a battle that others could (and can) relate to, because all of you are fighting a hard battle, too.

In some ways, my task is both amazingly simple and incredibly difficult. The simple part is that all I really need to pay attention to is my relationship with God. That’s as easy as praying. That’s also as easy as reading the Bible and maybe paying a little extra attention to those passages of the Apostolic Scriptures regarding what the Master and Paul (and any others who may have written about it) that discussed what was expected of the non-Jew, both before the return of Messiah and following.

Granted, there’s not a lot of material to work from, but where else do I have to turn?

The hard part is changing on a fundamental level, rebooting the system and hacking my life to become different and more than what it’s been up until now.

meI’ve got a couple of “mediations” that are “in the can,” so to speak. I don’t know if I’ll publish them. I don’t want my writing to distract me from what I need to do, but on the other hand, I wrote them weeks ago.

I’ll think about it. There are just two of them, so they may show up by the by.

I may return here someday and resume or maybe even improve upon what I’ve been trying to do in the past…chronicle one life on a path of faith and trust.

I just need to have a better “me” with which to do that.

The Bilateral Ekklesia vs. The Kingdom of Heaven

I posted the following after a number of complaints were registered about my original content:

Okay, stop!

Obviously I’ve written more than one controversial statement in this blog post and it’s causing more trouble than it’s worth. So hopefully WordPress will let me “comment out” the HTML of the content so I won’t actually have to erase it. I could have reverted this blog post to “draft” status or simply deleted it, but then I’d have to explain via email to each person who asked what happened to it.

It seems clear that in my exploration to clarify things for myself relative to the “bilateral ekklesia” and its relationship to the Kingdom of Heaven, that I’ve stepped on more than a few toes, which was not my intention. I sometimes complain of the contentiousness of religious blogging, and I’ve been doing more than my fair share to contribute to it lately.

I have to fix this. This has to end. I have to find a different way to take the next step in my spiritual evolution, whatever that may be, without dragging everyone down into the mud and making a mess of things.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of taking a major step forward, but I guess that’s not obvious from what I’ve been doing lately.

I have an idea. Wait for it.

NOTE: No, WordPress won’t let the HTML comment out tags work, so the content is now deleted.

After much deliberation, I decided to restore the original content with the understanding that it is simply to provide context for those who happen upon this blog post and can’t make heads or tails of it. Again, I never meant for what I wrote to cause offense.

The original blog post content follows:

The kingdom of heaven prior to the final redemption can be likened to a partisan movement, such as Robin Hood and his men or the European freedom fighters that fought in Nazi occupied territory. The Partisans is a teaching on Hebrews 2 in light of Psalm 8 and the parable of Luke 19:12ff concerning all things in subjection to the Son and the revelation of the kingdom.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Eight: The Partisans
Originally presented on February 16, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This was the opening quote of my original review of Lancaster’s sermon I published in March of 2014.

Much more recently, about a week ago, I published my previous blog post The Hope of Healing in the Bilateral Ekklesia chronicling the recognition, both among the Jews in Messianic Judaism, and those non-Jews who are involved, that there is a rift between Jews and Gentiles in the ekklesia, and that, as disciples of Yeshua, we desire to be (somehow) reconciled with one another.

I’m about to say (write) something you may not expect out of me. I’m going to say that the major barrier in that healing is the emphasis on Judaism vs. the emphasis on the Kingdom.

I quoted Lancaster above because in that sermon and a number of others, he emphasized that the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, the Messianic Kingdom, was already emerging into our world, probably within Yeshua’s earthly lifetime we see recorded in the Gospels, and certainly after his ascension when myriads of Gentiles were being drawn to Hashem through the teachings of the Master.

But as I’ve said many times before, even in those days, the problem of what to do with the Gentiles was a major headache among the Jewish Messianic disciples and apostles, including the emissary to the Gentiles, sent to us by the Master himself, Paul.

I don’t believe Paul ever “solved” the “Gentile problem,” but as I’ve also surmised, maybe he didn’t think he had to. If he really believed Messiah’s return was imminent, then he probably figured our King would order our ways in the ekklesia and in the Kingdom.

But Messiah didn’t return within the last decades of the First Century CE, nor in the subsequent centuries between then and now. What resulted, as you well know, was a terrific rift between the devout Jews and the Gentile believers, until Jewish faith in Yeshua was finally extinguished and only the Gentiles, however imperfectly, kept faith in Messiah…in Christ.

But that’s not to say, as the modern Church believes, that the Jews went down a dead end path of religion by works which took them away from God as it took them away from Yeshua (and I have to thank Rabbi Stuart Dauermann for writing about this on his Facebook page last Friday).

Each body, Rabbinic Judaism and the Christian Church, has preserved something of the lessons of God down through the long years and to this very day. Each has a certain number of pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of redemption, but it seems whenever the two groups get together and attempt to assemble that puzzle, none of the Jewish pieces match up with the Christian pieces. Apples and oranges. Square pegs and round holes.

But wait a minute.

From a present-day perspective, looking back at the late 19th century, we find a small body of Jews who lived as Jews (rather than converting to Christianity) who accepted the revelation that Yeshua as depicted in the Apostolic Scriptures, is indeed the Holy Moshiach of Hashem, sent with the good news of redemption for all Israel and even for the Goyishe nations.

Rabbi Joshua Brumbach
Rabbi Joshua Brumbach

Nearly four years ago, Rabbi Joshua Brumbach published a couple of blog posts: Rabbis Who Thought for Themselves and Rabbis Who Thought for Themselves – Part II presenting the lives of a number of late 19th and early 20th century Rabbis who indeed, “thought for themselves,” certainly thought outside the box, and came to the realization that Jesus of Nazareth, when you wipe the Gentile “make up” off his face that the Church painted there, is indeed Moshiach and Son of the Most High.

Much later, in the 1960s, the “Jesus Freak” movement spawned something that would eventually become the Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots groups we have today. For the past several decades, a small but growing body of Jews have accepted this revelation and have put Yeshua, Paul, and the other apostles and disciples we find in the Apostolic Scriptures, back into their ancient Jewish context.

It then became possible to study their teachings and written works the way any modern Jew would study Torah, Tanakh, and Talmud.

This is terrific news for Jews in Messiah who cannot and should not attempt to fit into modern Christianity, it’s the way to take what Rabbinic Judaism has preserved for the past twenty centuries and “marry” it to the good news of Messiah the Church has preserved, keeping in mind that what the Church believes about Christ has to be radically refactored in order to become (re)integrated with both ancient and modern Judaism, forming or at least crystalizing, some of what is called Messianic Judaism today (I word it that way because often many Gentile-driven Hebrew Roots groups and communities will call themselves “Messianic Judaism” or “Messianic” something).

But while this is good news for the Jews, what about the Gentiles? It seemed like good news at first, but as the blog series I’ve been writing lately has shown, there’s an uncomfortable flip side to all of this. If we support Messianic communities as being by and for Jews, where do the Gentiles go, the Church?

My personal experience has shown me that this isn’t always a sustainable alternative. Many of us don’t fit in at Church, much as we’ve tried.

But if Messianic synagogues are havens and sanctuaries for Jews in Messiah to live and worship in Jewish community, then by definition, we don’t fit in there as well.

Or do we?

There is a high degree of variability as to just how accepted non-Jews are in Messianic Jewish groups, at least in the U.S. For instance, Beth Immanuel in Hudson, WI touts itself as “Messianic Judaism for all Nations,” and while some Jews do worship there, its leadership is non-Jewish.

If you knew nothing about Beth Immanuel and you happened, as a non-Jewish disciple, that is, a Christian, to wander in for Shabbat services one Saturday morning, you might not realize it wasn’t a completely Jewish establishment. I’ve only been there for a couple of Shavuot conferences, so I don’t know what happens on a typical Shabbat, but I’d guess that there would be a traditional Jewish prayer service and a Torah service.

If an Oneg meal is shared, our hypothetical Christian would learn that the kitchen is kosher and no actual cooking is done on Shabbos. For those who choose, before a meal, they may practice netilat yadayim or ritual hand washing. And of course, being this is a kosher kitchen in what seems like a Jewish synagogue, any of the food served would also be kosher. No ham sandwiches or shrimp scampi on the menu.

messianic judaism for the nationsAnd yet, most of the people I’ve met at Beth Immanuel are non-Jews like me. That being the case, most of the men wear a kippah, don a tallit gadol for services, and I suspect many of them wear a tallit katan under their shirt on a daily basis, with the tzitzit tucked into their trousers.

You can see why it can be confusing to have that experience and at the same time hear messages about a strict segregation between Gentiles and Jews in Messiah in order to preserve the Judaism and Jewish life in Messianic Jewish community.

Of course there are many other Messianic Jewish congregations that have a Jewish leadership, such as Tikvat Israel in Richmond, VA, and yet there are numerous non-Jews in regular attendance in those shuls.

I’ve never visited Tikvat Israel, so I can’t comment about it in any detail, except to say that Rabbi David Rudolph, who is the head Rabbi, is Jewish, and that, at least in our email communications, he has treated me courteously and with compassion.

I know there are some notable Messianic Jews who believe the Messianic Judaism we have today is a fully realized microcosm of what the Messianic Kingdom will be when Messiah returns.

I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with that assessment (and I imagine I’ll hear about it, both in the comments section of this blog post and via email).

D. Thomas Lancaster believes that, using the “partisan” model, the Messianic Kingdom is slowly emerging, but the King is still absent, like an ancient King in exile, but one who has promised, one day, to return.

In the meantime, even though our world isn’t being run by our King, and in fact, it’s being run rather poorly by human agency, we are tasked to behave as if the Kingdom is already here.

Of course, that can be difficult without the proper Messianic “infrastructure” in place. We are partisans or members of the underground such as you’d have found in Nazi occupied France during World War II. We are fighting a difficult battle and we can’t always reveal ourselves to everyone as just who we are. Our “country” is occupied by an enemy force, and while in our hearts and in some of our actions we dedicate ourselves to our true King, in many other ways, we are inhibited or restricted. We can only behave as full citizens of the Kingdom once the King has set everything to right again.

As you probably can tell, we’re not there yet.

JewishThat’s why I think we cannot compare the current “bilateral ekklesia” with the future Messianic Kingdom. Right now, it’s important for the Jews in Messianic Judaism to focus on Judaism and the Jewish disciples of Messiah. Countless generations of Christians have made it clear that Jews cannot remain Jewish and convert to Christianity, while countless generations of Jews have made it clear that if you are devoted to Yeshua as Messiah, even if you live a fully religious Jewish lifestyle, you are considered an apostate.

So the only way for Jews in Messiah to survive and live a Jewish life is to contain themselves in a “Jewish bubble,” so to speak. If they associate exclusively with say, Orthodox Jews in order to maintain Jewish lifestyle, they may find their faith in Yeshua in danger of waning. If they associate mostly or exclusively with even Messianic Gentiles, let alone more traditional Christians, they may discover themselves diluting their lived Jewish experience and even becoming “Jewish-lite.”

I get that.

I also get that, in the Messianic Kingdom, the nations will have a place. We Gentiles, just as the Jews, will receive the full pouring out of the Spirit so that we too, from the very least to the very greatest, will have an apprehension of Hashem greater than even John the Immerser.

We too will have the resurrection and a place forever in the world to come. Our sacrifices will also be accepted in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. We will be able to travel to Jerusalem, particularly during the time of Sukkot, and see the face of our King, bring honor and glory to his name, and standing on the streets of Jerusalem, the City of David, and in the Temple courts, we will worship Hashem, God of Israel, thanking Him for redeeming not only the Jewish people, but all of the Gentiles who have kept faith and trust in Him during the hard times.

But that’s then and this is now.

Some Messianic communities would not desire my presence because, as a Gentile, I would inhibit Jewish worship. Interestingly enough, I believe in other Messianic communities, I’d be “too Gentile” because I do not regularly cover my head, wear a tallit katan, keep strictly Glatt kosher (I only keep Leviticus 11 “kosher lite”), use a siddur in prayer, pray at the set times of prayer, pray in Hebrew, cease work on Shabbat, and many other “Jewish” things.

I know there are Jews in Messiah who have “issues” with Gentiles who outwardly behave “Jewish” (don tzitzit, lay tefillin, wear a kippah in public during the week), but I’ve sometimes wondered if there are other Jews (and some “Messianic Gentiles”) who have “issues” with those of us who, as a matter of conviction, have set aside even praying with a siddur?

It’s an interesting question.

The 17th of Tammuz started at sunset on July 4th this year and it begins a three-week period of increasingly intense mourning for the Jewish people (yes, it was a fast day and no, I didn’t fast) leading up to Tisha B’Av.

This is a Jewish time of mourning, so what does it have to do with Gentiles?

Well, one of the greatest losses to the Jewish people was the destruction of the Temple, razed by the Roman army in 70 CE. Consider two things: The Temple was destroyed by Gentiles, and the sacrifices of Gentiles, even in the days of Yeshua, were accepted. We also know they will be accepted again in Messianic Days.

So I think we have a legitimate reason to mourn as well. We also have a very good reason to spend these three weeks repenting. Repenting of what you ask? Two general areas: The first is for our sins. Oh, don’t be coy. You know you sin. So do I.

destruction of the templeThe second is to repent of all the crimes the Gentiles have committed against Jews and Judaism across the ages, including the destruction of both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples.

We non-Jewish believers aren’t used to repenting for sins we ourselves didn’t commit. We aren’t usually held accountable for the sins of our ancestors. And yet, in the future, we know that the rest of the nations of the world, including the good ol’ U.S. of A., will go to war against Israel, nearly destroy her, and at the last second, God Himself will fight for the Jewish nation, and defeat the rest of us.

We know one of the consequences will be that every year at Sukkot, each nation will be responsible for sending representatives to Jerusalem to pay homage to King Messiah, and any nation that fails to do so, will receive no rain.

Even we non-Jewish believers and disciples of the Master will be citizens of the former enemy nations of Israel. Yes, we were underground fighters, holding the line, maintaining loyalty to our true King, but as citizens of America, Canada, or where ever, we also are (and will be) representatives of our individual countries. How many of you Americans out there celebrated the Fourth of July by having a picnic or barbecue, setting off fireworks, displaying an American flag at the front of your home, or something similar?

We have a lot to repent for, past, present, and future. Where do we fit in? Maybe nowhere yet. We’re underground, remember? Actually, Jewish disciples of Messiah are underground, too. They can’t always advertise to all of their Jewish relatives and friends that they acknowledge Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah, for fear of rejection or some other adverse reaction.

At least we Gentiles can say we’re Christian without offending too many people (although that’s becoming kind of a problem in certain areas of social media lately).

We aren’t there yet. This isn’t the fully emerged and flourishing Messianic Kingdom. The Ekklesia of Messiah will no doubt one day be healed, but that day isn’t today. The rift still exists. We pretend it shouldn’t because a sizable number of Jews living as Jews now recognize our Christ as their Messiah. We want to be one big happy family.

We’re not. That much is more than obvious. We have problems. The “family” is dysfunctional.

I think I’m going to pay more attention to the three weeks this year, not because I think I should be emulating Jewish people, and not as a reflection of an arrived Messianic Era, but because of all the screw ups that have happened between Jews and Christians over the years, including the original screw up when Gentiles walked out of the ancient Messianic community.

Mourn the loss of a “healed” ekklesia, for it still lies rent and bleeding on the ground. Mourn that our ancient ancestors destroyed the very Temple that 70 bulls were sacrificed every Sukkot for the sake of the nations…us. Repent. Pray that Moshiach arrives quickly so there will be healing. Pray that you survive the horrors that are to come, the birth pangs of Messiah, when every hand will turn against Israel, and you’ll have to stop being underground and stand up for the Jewish nation against your co-workers, your neighbors, members of your own family, and against (probably) most of the Christian Church, which should know better.

Whatever conflict and alienation exists between Gentiles and Jews in Messiah will eventually be healed and we will be reconciled again. When and how that will happen and what it will look like when it does, I have no idea.

I only know it will happen.

And in the meantime, we’ll have problems, plenty of them.

For we Gentiles, our only assurance isn’t in Jewish community, it’s in the God of Creation and the Son of Man who has promised to return in clouds of glory.

Restoration
Photo: First Fruits of Zion

Pray that you remain strong in the faith until the end. I know that’s what I’ll pray for…the endurance and courage to stay the course, to not wander off to the left or to the right…to keep steady, no matter what’s happening around me or to me.

We can only celebrate the victory of the King if we keep fighting his fight.

Only then, I believe, will we finally be healed, and all men and women will live in peace with their brothers and sisters, Jew and Gentile alike.

What I Learned in Church Today: Partakers in Tribulation, Kingdom, and Perseverance

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Revelation 1:9 (NASB)

John sees himself as a “brother and fellow partaker” with the Asian Christians in three things which are “in Jesus”. Does this mean that these are part of God’s design for them? Explain your answer.

-Charlie’s notes on Rev 1:9-20
for Sunday School class

As I mentioned last week, as a teacher, Charlie has few questions and presents limited material so that we can explore the great depths the Bible has to offer.

I won’t attempt to go over all that we discussed in class today, but I thought that the “three things” Charlie says John identifies as “in Jesus” were particularly interesting. What three things are we “fellow partakers” in?

Tribulation, Kingdom, and Perseverance.

When I saw those three words together, they just “clicked”.

Consider.

When Jesus died and was resurrected, he inaugurated the very beginning of the entry of the New Covenant into our world. In fact, even before the crucifixion, the central message of Jesus was “the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” as if the Kingdom could burst into our world at any second, even as he was speaking (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10:7, Mark 1:15).

seek first the kingdomBut even as the Kingdom is entering our reality, it will not reach fruition until the Messiah returns to us as King. We are to live in the present world, we believers that is, as if the Kingdom is already here and as if Jesus were already enthroned in Jerusalem as King Messiah. As D. Thomas Lancaster preached in his Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, we are freedom fighters or partisans, fighting against the world’s current tyranny, against the brokeness of a world that thinks it’s getting better every day, and fighting for our allegiance to the King, who is steadily coming nearer and soon to return.

Until then, we will indeed face great adversity and tribulation, even as the freedom fighters in Nazi occupied France did during World War Two. But we fight for a great cause, and we represent the King’s justice and mercy. We are fellow partakers in this troubled world, in the hope of the coming Kingdom, and we must maintain patient endurance until the Master comes back and establishes his reign over Israel and nations of the world.

After I was done laying out my answer (and I was feeling really proud of myself), Charlie asked for Biblical support for all that. Oops. I didn’t put that in my notes. Pride indeed goes before a fall. Fortunately, other class members stepped up to the plate and provided what I was missing. I guess there’s some truth in what Paul E. Meier said in his article for Messiah Journal issue 116 Christian Theology and the Old Testament:

Scripture points out that the understanding of individual believers is fragmental; each one of us has been granted a different degree of insight (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). The dimensions of God’s love are so vast that the whole body of believers is needed in order to comprehend them (Ephesians 3:18). God may give more insight to some than to others; he gives to each one according to the measure of his grace (Romans 12:3, Ephesians 4:7).

In other words, it “takes a whole village” or in this case, a whole Sunday school class to properly interpret the Bible. No one of us holds all the keys or can open all the doors to the Word of God, since we’re all apportioned gifts of different types and to different degrees by the mercy of Hashem.

Torah at SinaiThat means, we are all fellow partakers in the tribulations, the kingdom, and in perseverance with each other as we are all in Yeshua our Master, the Messiah King and Priest. But I wouldn’t have put all this together the way I have without an understanding of how the New Covenant works and what the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven really means (see The Kingdom is Now, Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, Keys to the Kingdom, and Foretaste of the Kingdom).

John’s Revelation, his mystic vision of the exalted Messiah King, is the source of a great deal of mystery and I can’t pretend to understand it all, but I do understand that we have one whose “voice [is] like the sound of a trumpet” as our High Priest.

So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound…

Exodus 19:16 (NASB)

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet…

Revelation 1:10 (NASB)

Yes, my Master and Lord. May your Kingdom come soon.

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

Revelation 22:20 (NASB)

Amen.

Seeking Treasure and Pearls

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Matthew 13:44-46 (NASB)

Are the parables concerned about the cost of discipleship or the cost of the kingdom? This is one of the most complex and difficult questions of Gospel scholarship. It is a crucial issue that must be resolved in order to understand the teachings of Jesus.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 11: The Find,” pp 220-1
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I didn’t want to review Young’s book piece by piece, but taking each of the parables in turn, something new keeps turning up in my perception of the Master’s teachings and I feel compelled to share.

The scripture from which I quoted above is actually considered two separate but related parables: The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. Christian commentators, theologians, clergy, and the average “believer in the pews” believe they have this one figured out.

Christian interpretations of the parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price show a strong christological interest. Irenaeus taught that the treasure is Christ. Such an allegorical approach has been rejected, however, by the consensus of modern scholars.

To imagine that the historical Jesus told a parable in which he himself appears as the great treasure accidentally discovered…is nonsense. Even though Matthew suggests that these parables were taught to the disciples in private, the Jesus of history did not ordinarily speak about his person in such a way…

Origen, too, understood the treasure and the pearl as referring to Christ, but took the allegorical method one step further when he discussed the meaning of the field in light of salvation history. The field represents the Scriptures and the treasure is Christ. The Jews rejected him, hence the treasure has been passed on to the Christians.

-Young, pp 200-1

Frankly, that all sounds horrible. I know from a 21st century church perspective, it may seem “obvious” and easy to come to such conclusions, but when you fit these words back into their original context, coming out of the Master’s mouth, and that his audience was his Jewish inner-circle of disciples, then it seems ridiculous to believe he was teaching such supersessionism.

Young goes on:

As a kingdom parable, its message is closely tied to other teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. For instance, Flusser properly understands “selling all” as an allusion to “seeking first the Kingdom,” which means that these illustrations are connected to Jesus’ teachings concerning the reign of God (Flusser, “Gleichmisse,” 129-33).

-ibid, pg 202

treasureNow, at least for me, things are starting to make sense. If the “hidden treasure” and the “costly pearl” represent the coming Kingdom of God, then “seeking first the kingdom” can be linked to searching for that “treasure” and selling all we own, that is, making all of our other priorities and concerns subordinate to the Kingdom.

However, Young also compares the treasure and the pearl to the cost of being a disciple, although, as we see, he believes we must make a choice between the two interpretations:

The cost of discipleship is actually a secondary theme supporting the theme of overriding passion for God’s reign. Jesus is consumed with a passion to see God’s rule realized. The kingdom is above all.

-ibid, pg 221

As a brief aside, I should mention that in Young’s opinion, it is the Kingdom, not the Church that is Christ’s “overriding passion” and the Kingdom is inexorably tied to the primacy of Israel in the redemptive and salvational plan of God.

So we must choose an interpretation for these parables: the value of the Kingdom or the cost of discipleship. Young has come to his conclusion but in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” In other words, is it too much to ask for both?

Yes, I’m suggesting (though not demanding) that Jesus could have inserted more than one meaning into his parables. However, based on other material Young included in his chapter, there may be even more going on in these parables.

The parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price have a rich background in Jewish tradition when viewed in the context of Torah learning. Accepting the kingdom meant entering into obedience to God and searching the deeper meaning of his revelation in Torah. The Gospels portray Jesus as a dynamic teacher; who raises up his disciples for total commitment in the kingdom of heaven. In Jewish thought, the recital of the Shema was the acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom, because one was making a declaration that one has chosen the LORD to the exclusion of all other gods, and God’s way of living life. Praying the Shema opened up communion with the one true God. Such devotion to God and God’s revelation in Torah was not without sacrifices.

-ibid, pg 206

ShemaThis paragraph is pregnant with possibilities. The plain meaning, as I take it, is that we can find both the value in Torah study as a means of learning obedience to God’s commandments and by performing them, gain entry into the kingdom, and the cost of discipleship and Torah study relative to the sacrifices one makes as a student of the Master and a servant of God.

In this regard, the story of R. Johanan is of interest, even though it first appears in sources from the Amoraic period. Rabbi Johanan and R. Chaya bar Abba were traveling from Tiberias to Sepphoris. As they passed through some of the most fertile land in the entire country, R. Johanan began to recall how he sold certain plots of land in order to finance his studies. The talmudic legend stresses R. Johanan’s sacrifice for Torah. Rabbi Chaya bar Abba is concerned that his friend will not have the resources necessary for his old age. But R. Johanan is filled with joy because he learned Torah. The exchange was well worth the sacrifice.

-ibid, pg 208

Rabbinic commentary is replete with examples of self-sacrifice for Torah study, with revered sages being depicted as living frugally if not in abject poverty, all for the sake of studying Torah. But these tales tend to give the impression, at least to the outsider, that Torah study was for its own sake rather than for the higher purpose of performing the mitzvot which would be pleasing to God. After all, if all one did was study without putting their knowledge into practice, is a person complete?

While I think we can reasonably infer that Jesus, as a teacher, expected his students to study and learn his teachings within the larger context of the Torah, he also expected them to go and do, spreading knowledge of the Kingdom of God among the lost sheep of Israel and afterward, the nations of the world (Matthew 28:19-20).

I know this once again brings up the question of Gentile disciples and the Torah. Certainly we are not forbidden study of the Torah nor even obligation to the mitzvot, but it is an obligation that has its own distinctive nature and indeed, we Gentiles in the ekklesia of Messiah have a distinct role that we must not abandon if the purposes of God are to be fulfilled through us.

I recently read an article that stated in part, “My friend Aaron just called “Messianic”, Messi-Antics. When I have said Messianic in the past, I mean someone that (sic) believes the Torah is God’s way of sanctifying His elect unto Himself, whether Jew or Gentile,” implying that there is only a single method of obedience to God through the Torah, and that Jew and Gentile were offered the self-same behavioral path of sanctification.

But it’s not performance of the mitzvot that makes us holy, especially mitzvot that are not apportioned to us. Above all else, if we don’t consider ourselves as separated from the values of the world by our faith, our repentance, our turning to God with a pure heart, our steadfast walk in continually desiring an encounter with God in prayer, then donning a tallit and laying tefillin won’t make much of a difference, even for a Jew. Nor will it matter if we call ourselves a “Messianic,” a “Christian,” or anything else. What we value isn’t a name, a label, or a brand, but rather sanctifying the Name of God.

Helping the HomelessYes, obedience, as I said above, is part and parcel with that sanctification of God’s Name and seeking first His kingdom, but obedience isn’t complicated. Most of the  time, it’s not even specific to role:

As a person who wants for nothing, it hit me pretty hard this morning to hear Homeless Shelter’s (name changed for privacy) plea for donations to help the homeless beat the heat. The Shelter believes that every person has a right to safe and adequate shelter and they’ve been sheltering, supporting, and advocating for homeless adults and children since 2005.

Donations are down this time of year because people think, “Hey, it’s warm out. They’re fine.” But as you know, triple-digit temperatures cause many problems. That is especially true for homeless adults and children. And it’s not just discomfort, but heat exhaustion and other serious illnesses.

So because we are a responsible company who likes to give back to our community, we’re collecting donations to help the Sanctuary help those in need.

By next Friday, July 18, please leave with the receptionist any of these much-needed supplies that we may take for granted.

I received that in a company email at my “day job” yesterday as a request for donations to a local homeless shelter. The person who wrote it wasn’t a manager but a regular employee who approached the charitable contributions committee where I work and asked if they would help her in fulfilling what she felt was a personal commitment to help the homeless. Fortunately, my employer is very community minded and thus, we’ve all been prompted to make various donations in cash or goods for the sake of people who have far less than we.

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts…

Romans 2:14-15 (NASB)

What is of value to God? Don’t we in some ways already know what to do to please Him, to obey Him?

This isn’t to negate Torah (Bible) study, since it is by study that our “instincts” to do good are refined and honed and we can not only feel but know what is right to do.

jewsSo far, all of the “different” interpretations of the parables in question seem to fit together. If the overarching commitment is to seek first the kingdom, that hidden treasure, that pearl of great price, then the means to do so is to study the Bible, to enter into discipleship, to subordinate all of our wants and needs to those goals, to perform acts of lovingkindness and mercy to our fellow human beings, even as God has been abundantly gracious and merciful to us. I’m less concerned about “looking Jewish” or having the wrong “religious label” than I am with buying a case of bottled water and various sun protection products and donating them to my local homeless shelter.

But beyond all of that, there is still another treasure to consider.

Clearly, these two parables (See Mekilta Derabbi Yishmael on Exod. 14:5) have a different reality behind their word-pictures than the Gospel parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price. Nevertheless, the images used in the colorful dramas as well as the action of the plot in each story are quite similar. The rabbinic parables illustrate the undiscovered treasure of the people of Israel, while the Gospel texts portray the intrinsic value of the kingdom and the cost associated with obtaining it.

The people of Israel became the precious treasure of God while the pharaoh of Egypt failed to comprehend the intrinsic value of the great nation he had released. By the same token, the disciple should recognize the intrinsic worth of the incomparable kingdom of God as he or she surrenders all to obtain it.

-Young, pp 212-13

Young compares the more traditional rabbinic parable of the treasure as the people/nation of Israel to the value of the kingdom of God and the cost of discipleship, but I want to take that comparison a step further. I want to say that we can bind these interpretations of value together, seeking first the kingdom, study of Torah, the cost of discipleship, and the preciousness of Israel. I think they’re interdependent. I don’t think you can separate them out into self-sustaining components.

For if you toss even one of those elements onto the trash heap, the rest will go with it.

Consider the recent abandonment of Israel by Evangelicals. Consider what I wrote about Yom Hashoah in the church. There is more than just human compassion in praying for the peace of Jerusalem. Even the Master said, “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22).

How can we seek first the kingdom? How can we search out the hidden treasure and then sell all we own to possess the pearl of great price? The kingdom isn’t just Torah study, nor is it just performance of the mitzvot (however we choose to interpret what “performance” means). It is also loving your fellow human beings and particularly loving and supporting your Jewish fellow human beings and the Jewish nation of Israel. That is the physical seat of the Throne of David and the center of Messiah’s Kingdom.

In order to assert that value, we “join the army,” so to speak, by making a commitment to Messiah as his disciples. We are students who learn by studying and by doing. We apply what we have learned by showing to others the mercy and kindness God has shown to us. Above all other nations, God has chosen to love Israel, so in that too, we must emulate the Almighty.

We are partisans or freedom fighters, declaring fealty to our Lord, holding our ground, defending his Land as he even now is on the journey to return and to re-claim that which is his own.

hopeAll of this constitutes the hidden treasure, the costly pearl. Am I saying in absolute terms that Jesus meant to imbue his two parables with the meaning I am assigning to them? No, of course not. How could I?

I am saying that a parable can contain more than one literal meaning. I am also saying that parables can be inspirational. Interpreting a parable is like interpreting a poem or an artistic painting. The reader or observer can often extract meaning from these works that the writer or painter never meant to convey. But the meaning is just as real and, in this case, I think, just as Biblical.

It’s what I hope to do with these “meditations” I write. I’m not just out to make some sort of theological point. I want what I write to inspire someone to do what they might not have done before, to entertain a thought that had never occurred to them before.

It’s quite possible that the Bible contains far more than we’ve given it credit for. I don’t mean to manufacture false interpretations or to add my own words to the Bible. However, I believe that the Spirit is with us when we read the parables of Jesus and the inspiration we feel when we consume his teachings goes far beyond just a series of words printed on paper, which is what they are without the Spirit.

Seek first the kingdom by seeking first the treasure beyond which all other treasures pale by comparison. Seek first God. His Spirit will provide all the wealth we will ever need.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and learn the true origins of the current (and historic) conflict between Jewish Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Our Hope is not in Heaven

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

The Evangelical gospel asks, “Are you certain you are going to go to heaven when you die?” The Christian objective seems to be to secure a place in heaven, but the Bible says very little about heaven. Find out why most passages about heaven are actually not about heaven at all in this installment on the basic teachings of the Messiah from Hebrews 6.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-four: Our Hope is not in Heaven
Originally presented on July 27, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster starts out his sermon by telling a joke about Heaven. I won’t retell it here. You can listen to it in the recording (link above) or read it at the beginning of Chapter 8: “Our Hope is not in Heaven,” pp 97-8 in his book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity. The thrust of today’s sermon is based on one phrase from Hebrews 6:2, “the resurrection from the dead.”

He’s talked before about what I call the truncated gospel message of Christianity which basically says, “Believe in Jesus so you can go to Heaven when you die.” That’s the whole point of being a Christian for many believers. The other part of it is to convince as many people as possible to believe in Jesus so they can go to Heaven when they die.

Except, you don’t go to Heaven when you die and you don’t stay in Heaven forever as a disembodied spirit after you die.

According to Lancaster, and I agree with him, there’s a lot of confusion about Heaven in Christianity, especially since the Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about Heaven. If you are a traditional Evangelical Christian, that statement might seem confusing. After all, didn’t Jesus and the apostles talk about Heaven all the time?

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matthew 3:2

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…

Matthew 6:33

And as you go, preach, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Matthew 10:7

Also see Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:5, and 2 Timothy 4:18 and many other verses in the apostolic scriptures that mention Heaven.

keys to the kingdomExcept the Heaven mentioned in all or most of these verses isn’t the Heaven in the sky where God lives, it’s what’s called a circumlocution, a way of talking about God without saying “God.” In other words, when Jesus said “Kingdom of Heaven” as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, he was really saying “Kingdom of God,” and that Kingdom will finally be completely established here on earth when Jesus comes back as King and Lord.

The First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come contains a number of episodes that discuss what the Kingdom of Heaven is, where it is, how it works, why Peter has the keys of the Kingdom, and how treasure can be stored there. See episodes such as The Kingdom is Now, Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, Keys to the Kingdom, Foretaste of the Kingdom, Treasure in Heaven, and Restoring the Kingdom for details. Each episode is about thirty minutes long and the content opens up and expands in great detail about the concepts Lancaster covers in his sermon. In fact, Lancaster seems to be summarizing all of that material in his thirty-four minute lecture today.

Just a couple of things. Philippians 3:20 talks about Christians having citizenship in Heaven. Does that mean when we die, we go live in Heaven as citizens, like how we have American citizenship (or whatever national citizenship you may have)? No. We are resurrected physically on earth and live here in bodies in the Messianic Kingdom. Our citizenship may be in Heaven, but we’ll be living here. After all, Paul was born a Roman citizen but he wasn’t born in Rome. He never even lived there, at least not until near the end of his life.

According to Lancaster, there is a paradise, a Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) where the spirits of the righteous go when the person dies, but that’s temporary. The spirit is reunited with the body at the resurrection.

Remember the empty tomb and Jesus?

While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them.

Luke 24:36-43

This is the resurrection we can expect, because Jesus was the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). We will also be resurrected in our original bodies (remember, Jesus still had the wounds, he didn’t get a new body) but we will not die again. This is what we can expect after we die and are resurrected, not going to Heaven like Casper the Friendly Ghost to float around on clouds for eternity.

What Did I Learn?

Since I’ve watched all of the FFOZ television episodes I mentioned above, I already had a pretty good idea what Lancaster was going to teach about. Lancaster based a number of things he taught on the writings of Christian theologian N.T. Wright, as well as his own teaching What About Heaven and Hell.

wind-sky-spirit-ruachLancaster also said that the reason Christians are so confused about Heaven and Hell is because Christianity separated itself from Judaism, and thus from the first century CE Jewish view of the meaning of the resurrection. He even went so far as to compare typical Christian understanding about what happens when we die to how the gnostics saw the dichotomy between the earthly corruptness and heavenly purity. Generally, Judaism doesn’t have “issues” with a flesh and blood physical existence (unless you get into Jewish mysticism, but that’s another story).

I see these comments as a continuation of the points Lancaster has made in other sermons in this series. He seems to be advocating a return to Judaism (specifically Messianic Judaism) for believers in Jesus, with an eye on first century C.E. Judaism. While the idea has merit, it’s important to remember that as the various Judaisms evolved over the last two-thousand years, they likely also do not contain perfect interpretations of the scriptures and probably possess a few misunderstandings of their own. We can all do the best we can to understand what God is saying to us in the Bible, but when Messiah returns, I suspect he’ll have to correct us in a few of the details of our doctrine and theology.

Is our hope in Heaven? It depends. If we put our hope, according to Lancaster, in being a “floaty ghost” in Heaven when we die, then no. If, on the other hand, we put our hope in God who is in Heaven (yes, Heaven is real), then yes…our hope is in Heaven, our hope is in God.

This too is one of the elementary teachings of the faith, as stated by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, one of those “milk” things.

I’ve become quite accustomed to the belief in a physical resurrection and an existence on earth as part of the literal Kingdom of God with King Messiah reigning on the throne of David in Jerusalem, so I didn’t experience any surprises or curve balls in today’s sermon. If, on the other hand, you are an Evangelical Christian who has been taught you’re going to become a “floaty soul” on a cloud playing a harp for all eternity when you die (actually the harps seem unescapable in Heaven based on Revelation 5:8, 14:2, and 15:2), then you might want to listen to Lancaster’s sermon or, better yet, spend a few hours viewing the selection of TV episodes I mentioned above (just click the links and view them online).

It could be an eye opener.