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Abraham, Ephesians 2, and the Unique Jewish Mission, Part 2

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.

Ephesians 2:14-16 (NASB)

This text indicates that the two identified in Ephesians 2:11 as Gentiles and Jews, have become one in Christ. Jesus broke down the barrier dividing the two in order to create “one new man” in which there is peace and reconciliation. “One new man” is a metaphor for the church but, in spite of its apparent simplicity, two diametrically opposing views of its nature appear in the literature. Each of these views is underpinned by antithetical perspectives on Israel in the present era inaugurated by the Christ-event.

-David B. Woods
“One New Man, Part 1 of 2” p.51
from Issue 119/Spring 2015 of Messiah Journal

Continued from Part 1.

The above-quoted scripture is the foundation for both Woods’ commentary in the current issue of Messiah Journal and Derek Leman’s commentary on his blog. Leman addresses “the wall” and what it might actually be from a Judaically-oriented interpretive perspective, and Woods takes on who this “one new man” might be.

Woods quoted Martyn Lloyd-Jones (“God’s Way of Reconciliation” [vol. 2. of “An Exposition on Ephesians”; Edinburgh, Scotland: Baker Book House, 1972], 275) to exemplify the currently held viewpoint of the “one new man” within Evangelical Christianity:

The Jew has been done away with as such, even as the Gentile has been done away with, in Christ…nothing that belonged to the old state is of any value or has any relevance in the new state.

-ibid, p.52

If you’re familiar with my views on supersessionism, otherwise known as replacement theology or fulfillment theology, then you know from my perspective, those are “fighting words.

Conversely, Woods quoted the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) (“Introducing Messianic Judaism and the UMJC” [Albuquerque, NM: Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, 2010], 24) to illustrate the “flip side” of the coin:

One new man does not mean that the distinction and mutuality between Jews and Gentiles are obliterated. Instead, it means that Jews as Jews and Gentiles as Gentiles, with their differences and distinctions, live in unity and mutual blessing in Yeshua…they do not become a new generic, uniform humanity.

-ibid

AbrahamThis harkens back to certain passages of Carl Kinbar’s article from the same issue of Messiah Journal: “The Promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Part 1” which I mentioned in my previous blog post. God endowed the Jews, through the patriarchs, with certain blessings and responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is, through Abraham, being a blessing to the Gentiles. This operates through the faithfulness of Messiah and Gentile faith in the God of Israel through Messiah Yeshua, and it only works if Israel, that is, the Jewish people, remain distinct from the Gentile disciples in the Ekklesia of Messiah.

Distinction theory is my term for the theological framework which understands Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus as distinct in certain significant theological senses, including identity and function (role, service) in the economy of God’s kingdom. That is, a biblical differentiation exists between Israel and the nations within the church similar to that which existed before Christ. This distinction results in a twofold structure within the church that I label “intra-ecclesial Jew-Gentile distinction.” In this framework, the “one new man” or “humanity” as I shall explain, comprises Jews and Gentiles who together are devoted to Jesus.

-ibid, p.53

I know that statement won’t sit well with some people reading this, namely more traditional, mainstream Christians, and certainly many Hebrew Roots proponents. Woods intends on showing from his analysis of scripture, how his view is more Biblically sustainable than those views that insist on the obliteration of Jewish uniqueness of identity and corporate covenant responsibility, either by, in essence, “Gentile-izing” them (and recall that Kinbar says you can’t “unJew” a Jew) or erasing Jewish distinction by assigning Jewish roles and responsibilities to both Jews and Gentiles equally.

To do this, Woods proposes to take the phrase “one new man” and analyze the Greek (and Hebrew) one word at a time. Unfortunately, by the time he ended part 1 of his article, he had addressed only the first word.

His explanation is complex, but in short:

Hena assuredly means one, but Jewish and Christian scholars alike are aware that the word is laden with theological import. God, says Deuteronomy 6:4, is one (…echad–or heis in the Septuagint, where heis and hena are inflections of the same word).

-ibid, p.54

Relative to the Shema and “the LORD is One”, it is just as accurate to translate echad as “unique” or “alone”. Applied to the “one” in “one new man,” this changes the meaning somewhat, from a single fused entity, to a grouping that has the potential to contain other groupings. Certainly “alone” could be compared to “called out”.

Also echad might not imply so much that God is “one and indivisible,” but…

…rather that God alone is to be worshiped to the exclusion of all other gods.

-ibid

Woods also considers basar echad or “one flesh” (Genesis 2:4) and states:

The marriage relationship is dependent on the distinction between husband and wife; thus “unity implies distinctiveness and yet is complementary.”

-ibid

beth immanuel
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

Looking back upon the “one new man” as the Messiah’s Ekklesia, we can see that it’s possible to have a group of called out ones that are echad and yet not only can contain sub-groups that are distinct, but that the Ekklesia’s very existence is dependent upon the Jewish and Gentile sub-groups within the larger “one” group remaining distinct and also complementary.

Woods cites Ephesians 2:11-22 in that it notes:

…that the principle distinction between members of the body is their status in Israel: They are either members of Israel (Jews), or they are drawn from among the nations (Gentiles/non-Jews) into fellowship with Israel–yet without becoming Jews.

-ibid, p.55 (emph. mine)

I might change that last part to say that we Gentiles in the Ekklesia are drawn “into fellowship with Israel without becoming Israel.” We have fellowship with Israel without replacing or usurping Israel’s unique covenant relationship with and responsibility to God.

Woods continues building his case for several more pages, but I believe I’ve presented sufficient examples to illustrate where he’s going. However, he won’t begin discussing his understanding of the word “new” until the next issue of Messiah Journal which will be published this coming summer.

Turning now to Derek Leman’s blog post on the Dividing Wall:

I attended a paper in 2013 on the meaning of the dividing wall passage of Ephesians 2. A year and a half later, the interpretation put forward by Jesper Svartvik still looks good to me. I include here a postlude concerning the meaning of “abolishing the law of commandments in decrees.”

So based on Leman’s presentation of the conclusions of Svartvik’s 2013 paper, how are we to understand the “dividing wall” that Yeshua was to have “broken down in his own flesh?”

From Leman’s perspective (taking from Svartvik), the Christian misunderstanding of this “wall” is based on the Christian misunderstanding of the Temple’s sacrificial system:

First, Svartvik said we need to keep in mind a Jewish understanding of sacrifice and the Temple worship, as opposed to same later Christian re-interpretations. Sacrifice at the Temple was about staying in the covenant and not getting in. People were not trying to “get saved” or “be born again” in offering a lamb. They already were in and sacrifices were part of keeping right relation with God.

Second, sacrifice in the Bible is about nearness, the spatial metaphor of “drawing near” to God. The verb most used for offering a sacrifice means literally “bring near.” (As a Hebrew Bible devotee, I can tell you, this is not only true, it is one of the most profound things I wish people knew about the sacrifices and it is one of the major issues I discuss in my book, Yeshua Our Atonement). We might notice that in Ephesians 2 the same nearness issue is being discussed: those who were far off are now brought near.

The Jewish people were near to God and the Gentiles were far off. So how could those who were far off be brought near to those who were already near (the Jews)? How was the enmity between Jews and Gentiles to be resolved? By doing away with Jewish obligation to Torah? By mandating that Jewish obligation to Torah also be assigned equally to the Gentile?

As we see from Woods, forming an “echad” Ekklesia of Jews and Gentiles doesn’t require that both groups be eliminated to form a new, homogenous entity with no distinctiveness contained within it.

As I quoted Leman in my previous blog post, the dividing wall can be understood differently than the four prevailing theories, the “soreg” or literal fence forming the “Court of the Gentiles” in the Temple, the Talmudic “fence” around the Torah commandments, a theological dividing wall between heaven and earth, or, most commonly, the Torah itself. The dividing wall can be understood as a metaphor for the “mistrust and enmity between Jews and Gentiles in the Greco-Roman world in which the apostles founded a movement of faith.”

intermarriageLet’s go back to Woods’ comparison of “one” as the “echad” of a marriage. A man and a woman meet and fall in love. They desire to marry, but there are “issues” that stand between them that must be resolved before they can enter into a life-long commitment to one another. You might say that they have to overcome any “mistrust and enmity” between them before they can be joined as “one flesh” and become something new, not two individuals, male and female, living apart, but “one flesh”, male and female, living in a single family and yet requiring they maintain their distinctiveness.

You can go to Leman’s blog to read the entire text of his essay as well as view the ongoing discussion, but hopefully, I’ve adequately summarized his main point regarding the nature of the “dividing wall” that was torn down through the Messiah. The dividing wall is just a metaphor for the mistrust and enmity that previously existed between Jew and Gentile. In Messiah, those barriers are gone and Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master can co-exist within the Ekklesia while remaining Jewish and Gentile. This is the same thing as a man and woman getting married and remaining male and female within the family.

Now before someone asks, Leman ends his blog post…

By the way, I should say the theory I just put out there concerning the meaning of “law of commandments in decrees” could never be fully verified as it is an example of trying to fill in a gap left by the writer. We can only guess what fills in the gap. The guess that “law of commandments in decrees” means the whole Torah has huge problems, not least of which is that is a strange way of describing Torah as a whole.

My take away from reviewing Kinbar’s, Woods’ and Leman’s work is that the concept of two unique and complementary groups, one made up of Jews and the other of Gentiles, operating within a single Ekklesia, and indeed, providing mutual blessings to one another, is certainly supportable from a Biblical viewpoint that is Israel-focused and Judaically-oriented, and may well represent the Apostle Paul’s original viewpoint.

Adopting that viewpoint requires divorcing ourselves from the more traditional Christian exegetical perspective on Paul in particular and the Bible in general, so that we may attempt to recapture the actual context and meaning of Paul and the other Bible writers, who were attempting to communicate how God’s vast, sweeping redemptive plan for Israel and the nations was to unfold, first through the Torah, then the Prophets, and finally the revelation of Messiah.

Reviews, by their nature, can only capture a snapshot of the works being reviewed. Again, I encourage you to go to Leman’s blog, and to read the articles written by Kinbar and Woods in the current issue of Messiah Journal to get the full message of what they are presenting. While not everyone who reads my blog may agree with what they have to say, you will see that there are compelling counterarguments to the traditions that have been handed down in the Church for so many centuries. I believe those counter-perspectives must be considered and ultimately accepted by believers in order for Jews and Gentiles in the Body of Messiah to apprehend the true meaning of “one new man.”

JerusalemIn Part 1, I said that in order to understand the role and purpose of the Messianic Gentile, we needed to understand the role of the Messianic Jew in the Ekklesia. So what did we Gentiles learn about ourselves? Hopefully, I illustrated that our role is to be joined with Israel, not to become or replace Israel. And as I’ve stated before, our purpose in the Ekklesia, in response to being blessed by the Jewish people and the promises God made to Abraham, is to support and encourage Jewish Torah observance and covenant obedience, for without an Israel oriented toward God, there is no redemption for the world.

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Abraham, Ephesians 2, and the Unique Jewish Mission, Part 1

I am writing this article to a specific segment of this generation of Jews: those who follow Messiah Yeshua, whether we are in Messianic congregations, synagogues, churches, groups of various kinds that meet in homes, or not actively part of a group. I call us all “Messianic Jews,” but the name is not important; what counts is our connection with Messiah.

We are members of both the body of Messiah and what Michael Wyschogrod calls “the body of Israel.” It is essential that we fulfill our calling and destiny in both communities.

To be frank, many Messianic Jews, myself included, have avoided speaking openly and in depth about the meaning and significance of Jewish existence because we do not want to inadvertently offend others. For now I want to say that the “tasks begun by the patriarchs” that are now entrusted to this generation of Jews have positive and profound implications for the nations. Therefore, if you are not Jewish, I invite you to pull up a chair and listen in. You are welcome here.

-Carl Kinbar
“The Promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Part 1 of 3” p.34
from Issue 119/Spring 2015 of Messiah Journal

At two separate seminars I attended in 2009, two speakers presented a different interpretation of Ephesians 2:15; they both claimed that the unity of the “one new man” does not imply, let alone require, a flattening of its Jewish and Gentile members into homogeneity. Instead, the unity spoken of in Ephesians 2:14-16 strengthens the case that Jewish identity of Jews who believe in Jesus is fundamental.

-David B. Woods
“One New Man, Part 1 of 2” p.52
from Issue 119/Spring 2015 of Messiah Journal

Regarding the fourth and most common Christian interpretation, Svartvik said something profound: how would that view fit with “peace to those near” in Ephesians 2? In other words, Yeshua came to bring peace to those near (Jewish people) and far (Gentiles). If he came to nullify God’s covenant with Israel, how is this peace with Israel?

Thus, Svartvik offers a fifth and new suggestion: the dividing wall is not physical or tangible, but is exactly what the text says it is, the mistrust and enmity between Jews and Gentiles in the Greco-Roman world in which the apostles founded a movement of faith.

He offers a comparison with another first century text in which a wall is used as a metaphor for something abstract. In 2 Baruch 54:3-5 the image of a wall refers to a block in understanding or perception: “You pull down the enclosure for those who have no experience and enlighten the darkness.”

-Derek Leman
“The Dividing Wall in Ephesians 2”
Published April 9, 2015 at the
Messianic Jewish Musings blog

You may notice that the common thread running through all three of the above-quoted paragraphs (besides Messianic Judaism in general) is the special status and mission of the Jewish people, particularly those who are disciples of Messiah Yeshua, as distinct and separate from the body of believing Gentiles, whether they are affiliated with Christianity, Hebrew/Jewish Roots, or the Messianic Jewish movement.

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

Each article provides an excellent springboard by which to launch ourselves into further investigation of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles who are attached to Yeshua, and to define the unique roles and purposes of each population as we exist within the Ekklesia of Messiah.

When I first started reading Kinbar’s article and saw that he had specifically written it to a Jewish audience, I felt as if I’d opened and was reading someone else’s letter, at least until he invited non-Jews to “pull up a chair” and become part of the audience. For it is in the definition of the special tasks that the current generation of Jews, both in Messiah and otherwise, have inherited from the patriarchs, that we find a contrasting role for “Messianic Gentiles”.

Both Woods and Leman tackle this topic through the lens of Ephesians 2, with Woods addressing the so-called “One New Man” (Ephesians 2:15) made out of two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, and Leman focusing on the breaking down of the “barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14 NASB) that previously separated those two groups but, “by the blood of Christ” (v.13) have been made one.

They both, as you might imagine, disagree with the traditional Christian interpretation of what “one new man” is supposed to mean, or what the result of tearing down the “dividing wall” was supposed to bring about. Christianity believes that annihilating that wall and creating one new man eliminated distinctions between Jews and Gentiles by obliterating Jewish and Gentile identity. The “one new man” was “neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28) but an entirely new creation in Jesus Christ.

Except that’s not how these gentlemen interpret these scriptures.

I should also say it is a shame that Paul’s letters can only be read in their Jewish context via a “radical” and “new” perspective. That is, of course, how they should have been read all along. But a few issues have understandably blocked Christian readers from seeing the Jewishness of Pauline letters and Ephesians in particular. To make a complex issue simple let me just list a few things. Paul’s letters do not address Jewish believers and their concerns, but rather his burgeoning Gentile mission of the earliest Yeshua-movement. Paul does not give us a theology of Jewish identity in relation to Messiah Yeshua because that identity was already well-known and assumed in the background. Jewish identity in Messiah remained rooted in the covenants with Abraham and at Sinai and through David, but the coming of Yeshua marked a new stage in God’s revealing his plan to Israel. It was only later, when the church interpreted Paul as saying there was a break away from Sinai and God’s covenant with Israel, that Jews must now become Christians, that the idea occurred that it would become “radical” and “new” to read Paul as a Jewish writer who had not abandoned his prior beliefs and practices.

-Leman (emph. mine)

Carl Kinbar
Rabbi Carl Kinbar

It is difficult to distill an analysis of all three articles into a blog post or two, so I’ll just hit the highlights, so to speak. Also, since both Kinbar and Woods are writing multi-part missives, and the latter submissions are not yet publicly available, the picture you are going to receive here will be, by necessity, incomplete. I encourage you to read Leman’s blog post and acquire copies of Messiah Journal, issue 119 and the subsequent two issues, to read their complete messages.

In order to “flesh out” the role of the “Messianic Gentile” related to Messianic Judaism and the Jewish people (in and out of the movement), it is necessary to understand to some degree, the role and mission of Jewish people as a covenant people within Judaism and as devoted disciples to Messiah.

Our loyalty to Messiah must be so powerfully integrated into our lives that we are simply unable to conceive of life without him. He must be part and parcel of our lives.

At the same time, being Jewish is a fact of our existence: whether we were born Jewish or converted, it is not even possible to “un-Jew” ourselves. To minimize, ignore, or deny this fact is to minimize, ignore, or deny the meaning and significance of our existence. That said, the fullness of our Jewish identity needs to be internalized just as our loyalty to Yeshua does. Our identity as Jews must be part and parcel of our lives.

Our identity as Jews and our loyalty to Messiah must be internalized and brought into harmony.

-Kinbar, p.35

That harmony is not easy to achieve, and I know of at least three Jewish people, one of whom I am very close to, who fully integrated and internalized their Jewish identities by way of entirely dispensing with their devotion to Yeshua.

What Kinbar said reminds me of an article Stuart Dauermann wrote for issue 114 of Messiah Journal called “The Jewish People are Us – Not Them,” which I reviewed nearly eighteen months ago.

In their separate articles, both Kinbar and Dauermann emphasize the vital importance in Messianic Jewish loyalty and affiliation to the Jewish people and national Israel, but while Kinbar makes his points very well regarding Jewish covenant responsibilities to the Torah mitzvot, to their fellow Jews, and to Hashem, what does this say about we Gentiles?

It all seems to come down to Abraham:

Shaul of Tarsus explains how we receive the blessings in Romans 4, where he writes that when Abraham believed God’s promise that he would have a son, God counted his faith as righteousness. Since this took place before Abraham was circumcised, the blessing is not reserved for the circumcised — that is, for Jews. It is available to anyone who follows in Abraham’s footsteps by relying on God, “who raised Yeshua our Lord form the dead, he who was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” Thus, God’s promise statement that he has made Abraham “the father to many nations” is being fulfilled in the body of Messiah…

-ibid, p.40

Kinbar made what I thought was a very interesting point on the same page:

This changed dramatically when Abraham’s name became more broadly known through the distribution of the Apostolic Writings among the nations of the world. In my opinion, it is not an accident that Abraham’s name appears proportionately more often in the Apostolic Writings than in the Tanach.

And again he says:

Were it not for the Apostolic Writings and the body of Messiah, “the families of the earth” would not have known that they may be blessed in Abraham.

But blessed with what? The evidence is in scripture itself as previously quoted above:

“who raised Yeshua our Lord form the dead, he who was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.”

MessiahOur faith and the faithfulness of Messiah results in we Gentiles receiving the promise of the resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, and justification before the Almighty. But remember, these promises are universal because they were given to Abraham before the circumcision. There are responsibilities incumbent only upon the Jewish people based on what was promised to Abraham after circumcision and subsequently promised to Isaac and Jacob:

Everyone who is devoted to Messiah should fear God, but Jews and Jewish communities are uniquely entrusted with the tasks begun by the fathers so that we can confirm the promises that God made to them. Engaging in these tasks is part and parcel of the meaning of Jewish existence: to be a source of blessing to the rest of humanity.

-ibid, p.49

So how are we to understand Woods, Leman, and Ephesians 2 in terms of what I’ve written above? For the sake of keeping this “morning meditation” reasonably short and thus of readable length, I’ll save the answer to that question for Part 2.

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 3:1 (NASB)

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

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

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

Romans 9:3-5 (emph. mine)

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s the answer:

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

Hosea 14:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 13:15 (emph. mine)

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 13:15-16

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

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

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

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

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

What Did I Learn?

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

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

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

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

Acts 10:1-2 (emph. mine)

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Review of David Hall’s “Homosexuality and the Torah”

I have experienced same-sex attraction for most of my life. When I was seventeen years old, I embraced a gay identity. Almost ten years after I came out, I saw the pain that this addiction was working in my life. I sought help from Outpost Ministries, a Minneapolis-based ministry that helps men and women find freedom from unwanted same-sex attraction.

-David Hall
“Homosexuality and the Torah,” p.59
Messiah Journal, Issue 117/Fall 2014

This is something of an interlude between my first and second review of Jay Michaelson’s book God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality. I’ve still got about sixty pages to go (as I write this) in the Michaelson book, but Hall’s article is only eight pages long (nine if you include the endnotes) so I shot through it a few days ago. As it turns out, Hall answers many of Michaelson’s points on homosexuality and the intent of scripture. It’s not a complete hand-and-glove fit, but it’s close. And Hall’s commentary has the advantage of being written by a person who has “been there,” meaning his opinions should have greater credibility than mine since I’ve never experienced “being gay.”

In his article, Hall uses the acronym “SSA” for “same-sex attraction” rather than the more “socially licensed” labels for the LGBTQ community. His footnote for the term (p. 67) states:

I use “SSA” to describe the emotional and physical attraction to members of the same sex. The term “homosexuality” includes the socio-political self-identification as gay or lesbian predicated on those attractions.

Hall says that two years after seeking help, he was “reasonably healed” to where he could begin working for Outpost Ministries and continued for six years to work on his own healing while helping others seeking help from the ministry to do the same.

I know this is going to push a lot of noses out of joint, particularly those advocates for full inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the church and synagogue, but this is the other side of the coin, so to speak, this is the life that stands opposite those such as Jay Michaelson and Matthew Vines.

I can’t speak for Hall and certainly not for Michaelson and Vines. As I said above, I don’t have a “gay experience”. I don’t know what it’s like to have those feelings or to live that life, in or out of the closet. Like Hall, I don’t have all the answers (p.60), but maybe there is an answer, even if it’s not the one that sells books and makes popular stories in social and news media.

One difference between Hall and other, similar commentators is that he’s addressing this topic from a Messianic Jewish perspective, rather than a traditional Christian viewpoint. The key in all this is that Christianity generally dismisses the Law but in doing so, has also done away with obeying God from a physical/bodily as well as spiritual manner.

I don’t know if I entirely agree since Christians, at least in more conservative denominations, tend to provide strong support for physical purity and marital fidelity, at least on the surface. I don’t see why that wouldn’t extend to purity in the sense of not only marital fidelity but exclusively heterosexual romantic/erotic relations.

However…

I have seen that the church suffers profound confusion about what it means when the Bible says that God created us male and female. I have seen the ramifications of a “freedom from the law” theology.

-ibid, p.66

But the churches Hall seems to be referencing are those on the more socially and politically liberal end of the spectrum.

The ELCA and PC-USA recently approved ordaining openly gay clergy and affirming same-sex marriages. In their debates I saw that the discussions never focused on what the Word says but on the feelings of various groups: “Don’t make people feel unwelcome in the PC-USA” or “I love being Lutheran, but I’m gay — don’t kick me out” were common refrains.

-ibid

DHE GospelsThis is more or less the argument in Part One of Michaelson’s book, a focus on feeling rather than the Word. Of course, Part Two of the book does address “what the Word says”, both from a Christian and Jewish point of view, but Hall addresses that as well.

I consider the following paragraph to be the core of Hall’s article:

You may have noticed that in our discussion of homosexuality, I did not mention the Torah’s prohibitions against the behavior in Leviticus 18. I made my appeal not from prohibition but from created intent. This approach helps us see that God’s law is not simply a list of cold rules but boundaries directing us into holiness, righteousness, and life. Why does God prohibit homosexual behavior? Because he is jealous for his image on the earth as reflected in male and female.

-ibid, p.64

Hall’s opinion is similar to my own. Even if we were to completely dismiss all of the apparent Biblical prohibitions against homosexual behavior, we absolutely do not see a normalization of “loving, monogamous same-sex romantic/erotic relationships” in the Bible. In one of the chapters in Part Two of his book, Michaelson attempts to make a case for such a “normalization,” at least to a degree by citing not only David and Jonathan’s friendship but the relationship between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. I’ll issue my response in more detail in a later review, but even Michaelson admits that “sexual orientation” as such was not understood (or experienced) in ancient times, thus using those friendships (and any sexual component implied is highly questionable) in support of normalization of gay relationships in the church and synagogue today is sketchy at best.

Hall continues:

Have we then implied that a person experiencing same-sex attraction is condemned by God? Absolutely not! We have, I hope, shown that there is more going on underneath same-sex attraction than either rebellion or genetic predisposition…

…The opposite of homosexuality is thus not heterosexuality but righteousness. The question regarding SSA is not “Can I be gay and a follower of Yeshua?” but rather “Can I disagree with God about who he made me to be and still truly be Yeshua’s disciple?”

-ibid

So why do gay people experience their sexual orientation/identity as such an immutable quality? From Hall’s viewpoint, it’s just another sign of “brokenness” in the world and in human beings among all the other ways people are broken spiritually. The very concepts, as Michaelson has confirmed in his book, of sexual orientation and sexual identity have been created quite recently in human history. While we have a long record of homosexual sex, what it meant “back in the day” can’t be compared to what we call it in the modern world.

gay marriageWhat if we’re seeing a “power surge” of “sexual diversity” not because the people who once would have hidden who they were, maybe for all their lives, are being given permission to “come out of the closet” by an increasingly “progressive” society, but because our world is becoming increasingly permissive of many sins once treated as strict taboos, including sexual sins, and including those sexual sins (at least in their physical expression) identified as sexual “orientation” and “identity”?

Like Michaelson, I can’t really prove my points, but if looked at through a spiritual and Biblical lens rather than with what Hall calls “the fruit of cheap grace,” it makes more sense.

Like I said, it’s not a perfect fit. There are men and women who try for years to change, to become attracted to the opposite sex as their primary or exclusive object of romantic and erotic love, but who continue to fail. For many, that is proof that sexual orientation is innate and immutable in human beings, with some minority human population being same-sex attracted. For others, it’s a sign of just how far we have morally fallen, and perhaps a sign of the “spiritual warfare” being directed at the world as the time of Messiah’s return draws near. The spirit of humanity is so wide open to all manner of injury and damage, that it never occurs to us (and in some circles it is forbidden to mention it) these so-called “normal” and “natural” attractions and behaviors are a sign that something is seriously wrong.

After seven years of working through my issues, choosing to live beyond my same-sex attraction, I do not see myself as a gay man anymore. God brought enough healing to my life that, in September 2013, I was married to a beautifully feminine woman who does not see me through the lens of same-sex attraction. She sees me as a man perfectly made for her.

-ibid, p.65

Hall makes many good points in his small article and I’ve only touched on a few of them here. If you are convinced that the LGBTQ community should be fully included in the body of faith, then nothing in Hall’s article is likely to change your mind and you probably will just become angry at Hall and at me. If you are a traditional Christian or devout Jew, you are likely to praise Hall and continue to condemn Michaelson, Vines and others, even though Hall says God does not condemn them, at least not any more than anyone else trapped in a life that God did not choose for them. I’m not writing this to beat up gay people, whether they’re in religious community or not. I’m trying to understand what God is really saying and doing, and since I’m only human, that isn’t always easy for me.

I’ve struggled with the inherit nature of humans being created as Male and Female, as complementary physically and in many other ways, as helpmates standing opposite one another, and also having a long line of gay people saying that they were born that way, that being gay is natural, normal, and part of God’s plan, and that it’s cruel and bigoted to ask them to change what is unchangeable.

But if they weren’t “born that way,” at least as part of a God-sanctioned process, then what?

How much pain, suffering, and injustice exists in the world today that we seem helpless to change? The list is endless. What’s the cause in a God-created world? Man’s fall from grace at Eden. The world changed in a fundamental way such that the universe actually started operating differently, where disobedience became possible and much more likely than it was previously, and where even death existed in a way that was previously impossible.

What if one of the things that changed is the fundamental way that sex and attraction works? I agree, I’m proposing a big of “what if,” but it makes more sense than God forbidding same-sex sex and then creating human beings who are designed to desire same-sex sex/love. The way people experience sex and love has been twisted into just about anything you can imagine. The list of sexual fetishes we have categorized is astounding. But God also gave the Torah and the whole of His Word, the Bible, not as a cold list of “do’s and “don’ts” but as boundaries and expectations, a plan of God for human beings and specifically human coupling, of being created male and female.

jewish weddingThe Bible in no way presupposes the normalization of same-sex love/sex in the community of faith. I’m sure many will disagree with me, particularly because I lack a rock solid alternative for addressing what Hall calls SSA. But I can’t “interpret” the Bible so radically that I see something that is not written on any of its pages. I don’t see modern homosexual relationships, let alone marriages, sanctioned and sanctified by God. I don’t see a path to making them sanctioned and sanctified that can be derived or inferred from the scriptural text.

That’s as far as I can take this little interlude. I’ll publish my review of Part Two in tomorrow’s “morning meditation” and then on Tuesday, will publish Part Three’s “unofficial” review, and later on, a final conclusion based on Torah study.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 10:19 (NASB)

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

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

Hebrews 10:19-22

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

Matthew 27:50-51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ezekiel 36:24-27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 10:24-25

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

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

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

Then Lancaster gets very passionate:

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

Hebrews 10:26-27

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

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

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

Sorry.

Now this is interesting:

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

Hebrews 10:28-31

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

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

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

1 John 3:5-6

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

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

Philippians 3:12-14

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

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

Philippians 3:15-16

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

What Did I Learn?

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

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

Matthew 27:52-53

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

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

Matthew 27:54

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

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

That’s why they have us.

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

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

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

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

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Mediator of the New Covenant

In the New Covenant, Yeshua acts as priest, sacrifice, and mediator. Installment 36 in the Beth Immanuel Hebrews series finishes Hebrews 9 with a discussion on Hebrews 9:15-28 and the Messiah’s role as a mediator between Israel and God.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Six: Mediator of the New Covenant
Originally presented on December 28, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

“Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Make me a match,
Find me a find,
catch me a catch”

-from “Matchmaker” by Jerry Bock
from the play and film “Fiddler on the Roof”

Lancaster started off his sermon on a different note than usual this week, stating that he’d been reading a book called A Jewish Response to Missionaries produced by Jews for Judaism, which is an “anti-missionary” organization. According to something in the book, Lancaster said that Judaism has a prohibition against mediators since a mediator between a person and God violates the second commandment not to have any god before Hashem.

Except that’s not true.

Sure, we can pray as individuals, and in any event, God knows our every thought, so it’s not like we need someone to help us communicate to God what we’re thinking and feeling. On the other hand, if the Jewish people didn’t need a mediator, why was there a priesthood? Why were there sacrifices? Why was there a Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle? And why was there Moses?

Actually, Chasidic Judaism very much believes in mediators and relies on a tzaddik, their Rebbe, to act as mediator.

So the Jewish prohibition against mediators seems to only apply when combating Christianity, as Lancaster says.

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.

Galatians 3:19-20 (NASB)

The Jewish PaulPaul himself said that the Torah was delivered to the Israelites through a mediator and would remain in effect until such time as “the seed” would come, meaning Messiah. This isn’t to say that the Old Covenant and the Torah are not in effect today. They still are. But we are still living in Old (Sinai) Covenant times. The New Covenant won’t fully arrive until the resurrection and return of Messiah (but I’m getting ahead of myself), but even then, the Torah remains as the conditions of the New Covenant, too.

What is a mediator? Someone who negotiates an arrangement between two parties. Paul said “God is only one,” so the other party to the Sinai Covenant must be Israel. Lancaster says that the midrash likens Moses to the friend of the bridegroom (God) so to speak, like a matchmaker arranging a “match” between a man and woman for marriage (think Fiddler on the Roof, which is what the image at the very top of the blog post references).

Picture Moses going up and down the mountain carrying messages between Israel and God and between God and Israel, like a friend carrying love notes between a man and a woman who are courting. And in Exodus 24 Moses even performs the ceremony as such. Oaths are exchanged, blood is splashed, and afterward, everybody gets together in the presence of the bride and groom for a covenant meal, like a wedding reception.

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

Matthew 26:26-29

Lancaster says that the Last Supper, or Last Seder if you will, also functions like a covenant meal in the presence of both parties, with the Master in the role of the mediator, representing the groom (God the Father), and the Apostles representing Israel, just as the elders of the tribes at the first covenant meal represented Israel.

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2:5-6

Seems like a pretty pointblank statement to me. Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant between man and God.

However, there’s a part of these verses that has always hung me up and I think Lancaster solves my problem.

For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood.

Hebrews 9:15-18

testamentDepending on the translation you have, you either see the word “covenant” being used or “testament” as in “last will and testament.” Except a covenant and a testament are not the same thing at all. It’s pretty confusing in English. But apparently, “covenant” and “testament” are the same word in Biblical Greek and Paul was using a bit of word play. It makes sense in Greek but is useless in English.

However, it’s really just a simple point as Lancaster says.

Just as a last will and testament doesn’t come into effect until a person dies, a covenant doesn’t come into effect until there’s been a sacrifice and shedding of blood.

That’s all the writer of the Book of Hebrews is saying here. Don’t get hung up on any deeper symbolism or meaning. It doesn’t exist except in the thoughts of theologians, scholars, or sometimes people who like to find what isn’t there.

Verses 19-22 describe the events of Exodus 24 with some minor variations, and then Lancaster goes on to compare Moses and Jesus, whereby Moses made the Sinai Covenant come into effect by splashing the blood of the sacrifice, Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant with his blood.

Lancaster was very careful to say that Jesus didn’t literally enter the Heavenly Holy of Holies carrying a bowl of his own blood, this is symbolic language and imagery. He entered the Most Holy Place in Heaven on the merit of his righteousness and sacrifice as the greatest tzaddik of his or any other generation, not because he was a literal human sacrifice.

Verses 24 and 25 use the illustration of the Aaronic High Priest who every Yom Kippur, enters the Holy of Holies with blood to offer atonement for the people of Israel. He offers the blood of the sacrifice and he prays for the people. According to midrash, he was told not to pray too long because while the High Priest may be basking in the Holiness of God, the people outside, since no one can go in with the High Priest, are “freaking out” wondering what happened to him and if the act and prayers of atonement were successful.

So too are we waiting for our High Priest to return so that we know, so to speak, that his atonement for us was also successful (though we know it was and is). Yeshua, our High Priest, is tarrying in his prayers of atonement on our behalf. This is still a “virtual” Yom Kippur. He will emerge from the Heavenly Holy of Holies upon his return to us and then we will know.

Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Hebrews 9:26

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

John 14:6

Jesus as our High Priest, our sacrifice, and our mediator, is the way into the New Covenant through our faith in what his work accomplished, and that faith and acknowledgement of him as mediator is required for us to participate in the blessings of the New Covenant.

Verse 28 speaks of those who eagerly await Messiah’s return. That applies to us as we eagerly await him, await the resurrection, await the terrible and awesome days of the Lord, and await the establishment of his Kingdom and the life of the world to come.

What Did I Learn?

Just about all of this was an eye opener. I had some vague notion of Jesus being the New Covenant mediator as Moses mediated the Sinai Covenant, but Lancaster added a great deal of detail, putting flesh on the mere skeleton of information I possessed as far as Hebrews 9 is concerned.

high_priestI especially appreciated the comparison between the Aaronic High Priest in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur and Yeshua as the High Priest in the Heavenly Holy of Holies, which represents the Messianic Age to come, a place, like the earthly High Priest, where only he can go, and we can only anxiously wait for him on the outside, wondering what’s happening in there and how long it is going to be before he comes back for us. How long, Moshiach? How long?

Lancaster has a talent for taking what seems to be very mysterious portions of scripture and removing the disguise, so to speak, to give the words and passages a plain and understandable meaning. Reading all this before, I don’t know what I thought about it, but now it makes a lot more sense.

Only four more chapters to go in Hebrews, which will take nine more sermons, nine more weeks for me to review. I didn’t cover everything Lancaster taught in today’s sermon, so you might want to listen to it yourself. This one is fairly brief at just barely 29 minutes. You can find the link above.