Tag Archives: sermon

Paul the Advocate for the Gentiles

fish mosaicThe Saturdays when we don’t have the grandkids over is usually when I do my yard work. I know for you out there, both Jews and Gentles who are Sabbath keepers, that may sound scandalous, but my wife, who is Jewish and not a believer in Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ), is out doing a side job today, and in fact left me a “honey do” list with what she wanted me to accomplish in her absence. Since she, as a Jew, isn’t observant of Shabbos, it probably would cause issues between us if I, as a Gentile, insisted on keeping the Sabbath in some manner or fashion.

The last task on the list of things for me to do outside was weeding. I hate weeding. I find it exceedingly boring. There’s nothing to do but sit on the ground with the spiders and pull useless plant matter out of the ground by the roots while hoping to avoid wasps.

My son Michael loves listening to podcasts, particularly about ancient history. My wife listens to podcasts about health and aging while going on her morning walks. Maybe I should take my iPhone out with me and listen to something too.

I have no ideas if there’s such a thing as a Messianic Jewish podcast, particularly a credible one (remember, anyone out there can put on a kippah and tallit and call themselves a Messianic Rabbi or teacher, and then spew all kinds of nonsense).

I used to listen to a lot of the recorded sermons by D. Thomas Lancaster on the Beth Immanuel congregational website. Most of them were quite illuminating.

However, I found it necessary to distance myself from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) which employs Lancaster, not because I dislike the people involved and not because I dislike FFOZ’s teachings, but because, in certain circles, it was believed that on some level I worked for them. That became a problem. My opinions expressed on this and my other blogs are my own and no one else’s. I reserve the right not to have my content restricted, edited, or censored by anyone but me.

So it’s easier to be a lone wolf blogger as well as a lone wolf believer.

But that has drawbacks. I wanted to listen to a lesson of Lancaster’s while weeding. No, that part isn’t the problem. The problem is I can’t listen to anything like that without wanting to write about it. That’s the problem.

I did listen to the first in a series of sermons Lancaster gave on the Book of Romans, specifically The Early Believers in Rome.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and it took the sting out of having to weed.

I’m not going to review the sermon as I might have done in the past, but I am going to write about some of the things it reminded me of.

It reminded me that the Apostle Paul (Rav Shaul if you prefer) actually wanted Gentiles to be part of the club. No, not convert to Judaism, and not to take on board Jewish praxis, but he believed that we non-Jews are totally sufficient as worshipers of Hashem and disciples of Rav Yeshua without being Jewish.

That was a minority opinion in Paul’s day, and opinions are divided even today in Messianic and Hebrew Roots circles as to whether or not Gentiles should engage in Jewish praxis to one degree or another. Some Gentiles today feel totally inadequate in Jewish community, deciding to bypass Rav Yeshua altogether and convert to Orthodox Judaism, sort of missing the forest for the trees.

In Paul’s time, some, actually probably most, Jewish believers were of the opinion that no Gentile could come to faith in Hashem and be a disciple of Messiah without converting to Judaism and taking on the full yoke of Torah. Some, maybe most Messianic Jews in that day didn’t want hordes of unconverted Gentiles in their synagogues.

It was interesting because Lancaster explored the history of whether or not there was about a five year period when all Jews were expelled from Rome. He said that if all of the Jews, including believers in Yeshua were absent from Rome, then the Messianic congregations were left in the hands of the Gentile God-fearers.

It must have been very interesting when the Jewish believers came back to find their synagogues run totally by these Messianic Gentiles.

It also makes me wonder if many of these Messianic Jews preferred to have believing Gentiles in their own congregations. It would make sense and have advantages from their point of view. The believing Jews would have their wholly Jewish synagogues, and Gentiles could worship in a more or less parallel way in Gentile congregations.

Lancaster believes that Paul taught a different Gospel than the other Messianic Jewish Apostles.

I remember a Pastor with whom I was once well acquainted chafed at the idea that Paul had a different Gospel since there is only one Gospel of Jesus Christ. What he didn’t understand or chose not to believe was that Paul’s Gospel was good news to Jews and Gentiles alike.

It was good news to the Jews first because Messiah had come as the forbearer of the New Covenant promises of God. He came with evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection of the dead, and the promise of the life in the world to come (which, by the way, are all very Pharisaic beliefs, particularly the last two).

But it was also good news to the Gentiles because they too could participate in the blessings of the New Covenant without being named members of that covenant. In other words, the Gentiles could also receive Hashem’s grace and mercy through the merit of Rav Yeshua without converting to Judaism and taking on the total body of Jewish praxis.

Paul had a lot of opposition to this Gospel from most of the other Jewish believers, at least as Lancaster tells it (and I agree with him), since their Gospel was one that was indeed good news for the Jews but only good news for the Gentiles if the Gentiles converted to Judaism.

The Jewish PaulJudaism was an official religion in the Roman empire but not so being a God-fearer, so there was a lot of motivation for Gentiles to believe the Gospel that was not Paul’s.

But Paul persevered. He had the support of James, brother of Rav Yeshua, and the Council of Leaders and Elders in Jerusalem, but the diaspora was a big place. It’s even bigger now.

Nothing has changed. We face the same problems Paul did, and I should point out that Paul never came to an ultimate resolution. All of the congregations Paul himself established believed in his Gospel for Jews and Gentiles, but Paul didn’t establish the congregations in Rome.

Nor did he establish (at least not directly) the Messianic congregations, and certainly not the mainstream Christian churches of today (though those churches probably believe something different). Paul probably would have no idea what was going on in a modern church service if he could visit one today. And while maybe he would have some difficulty with a modern Messianic Jewish service, even one closely modeled on traditional Orthodox Jewish practice, he would understand very well the problems facing believing Jews and Gentiles.

That’s what this sermon reminded me of. It reminded me why I no longer affiliate with any organized religious community (well, there are many reasons actually). It also reminded me that he truly believed I should be part of the club. Not me personally, but Gentiles like me. That we could come to faith and be disciples of Yeshua, and it’s okay if we’re not Jewish. He didn’t even have a problem with Jews and Gentiles worshiping together. Only his believing Jewish contemporaries did.

Yeah, just like today.

Thanks be to Yeshua for choosing Paul to be his special emissary to the Gentiles. Thanks be to Paul for staying the course, not giving in to peer pressure or any other kind of pressure, and being a relentless defender of both his people the Jews, but of those of us on the outside, the Gentiles who are attracted to the God of Israel by way of Jewish teachings and practice.

I’m glad there was someone pulling for us back in the day. I wish someone would take up that mantle today, but there are no more living Apostles.

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ…

I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Romans 1:1-6, 13-15 (NASB) emphasis mine.

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.

What I Learned in Church Today: The “Lost” in the Church

When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.

Acts 28:23-24 (NASB)

Today’s (as I write this) sermon and Sunday school lesson at church was on Acts 28:17-31, the end of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Pastor Randy has spent more than three years and given seventy-two sermons on the Book of Acts and next week, he launches into a sermon series on, no, not Romans, though I was looking forward to it, but on the Ten Commandments starting out in Exodus 19. That promises to be full of interesting information and my Sunday school teacher, who was not exactly thrilled with the idea initially, is going to have his hands full with me.

But I digress.

At one point early in his sermon, Pastor said that God keeps all His promises, including His promise to return the Jewish exiles to the Land of Israel, His promise to raise Israel as the head of the nations, and His promise to rebuild the Temple. Pastor said if we can’t trust God to keep His promises to the Jewish people, we can’t trust that He will keep His promises to us.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Romans 10:1-4 (NASB)

And then he said that the Jewish people chose to follow Rabbinic Judaism rather than the plain meaning of the Biblical text. Pastor had such a great start, too.

It would be difficult to convince most people at church that what we call Rabbinic Judaism (is there any other kind of religious Judaism?) today is an extension of Pharisaism and that the first century Jewish religious stream of “the Way” is simply Pharisaism with a “Messianic twist” and an unusually liberal policy about admitting Gentiles. It would be almost impossible to convince them that God may well have imbued the sages with the authority to make binding halachah for their communities, and thus that God continues to be involved positively with Jews practicing Judaism in the present age. I guess that’s yet to come.

One of the things that was driving me nuts, both in the sermon and in Sunday school, was the constant mention of Christianity. Christianity didn’t exist in Paul’s lifetime. It was a variant religious discipline within larger Judaism, just as was practiced by the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and the Qumran Community. They all shared a common core Judaism but outside of that, had widely differing beliefs and to a degree, practices.

In Pastor Randy’s notes, he had one of the three main themes of the Book of Acts as “the hostility of the world towards Christianity.” I rewrote it in my copy of the notes to say “hostility toward God” since “the world,” and by that I assume Pastor meant the pagan Greek and Roman world, wouldn’t have noticed a difference between “the Way” and any other form of Judaism.

One other good thing Pastor said was regarding the quote from Romans 10:4:

For Christ is the end of the law…

The word translated in English as “end” is the Greek word “telos” which Randy translated as “goal” or “purpose” and which can be expressed as “the reason for,” thus we could say:

“For Messiah is the purpose of the Torah for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

MessiahMessiah is the purpose for, the goal, the reason for the Torah, the target, the focus that gives Jewish observance of the mitzvot its clearest meaning as the conditions of obedience to the Sinai and New Covenant and the lived experience of Jewish devotion to God.

I know how I understand what all that means, but I wonder what Pastor understands since in our previous conversations, he seemed to indicate that the Torah was passing away in this “transitional period” of Jewish and “Christian” history and was soon to be extinguished?

I wonder what the people in the sanctuary were thinking as they listened to him? Nothing radical if Sunday school class, which studies the sermon material, is any indication. I suspect (hope) that Pastor’s sermon series on the Ten Commandments will expand on this topic, but here too, I know Pastor’s perspective. He believes that the Ten Commandments can be generally applied to Christianity but not the entire set of Torah commandments (which are organized into 613 commandments in modern Judaism based on the teachings of 12th century sage Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides or the Rambam). Further, he believes the Torah commandments no longer are an obligation for the Jewish people, particularly Jewish believers in Christ.

However, I agreed with Pastor when in his sermon he said how we Gentiles are grafted into the root through the faith of Abraham, which connects nicely with how I see what bridges the gap between Gentiles and the New Covenant blessings.

And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying,

‘Go to this people and say,
“You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;

For the heart of this people has become dull,
And with their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.”’

Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”

Acts 28:25-28 (NASB)

We find after listening to Paul’s evidence from the Torah and the Prophets establishing Yeshua is Messiah, that some of the Jewish leaders in Rome were convinced and came to faith and others did not. Since they didn’t all agree, Paul quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 which one person in Sunday school class pointed out was the statement God made to Isaiah after commissioning him as a prophet to Israel to bring them to repentance. Isaiah was to speak of repentance but God told him point-blank in advance that no one was going to listen.

So apparently it was the same in Paul’s day as well, except that some did repent. I wonder if some individual Jews repented in the days of Isaiah but that it was not enough to save the nation from God’s wrath?

But what does that say of the Jews in Paul’s day let alone in ours?

What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes to see not and ears to hear not,
Down to this very day.”

And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.

“Let their eyes be darkened to see not,
And bend their backs forever.”

I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they?

Romans 11:7-11 (NASB)

working handsThis seems to say that some Jewish people were chosen to accept Messiah but the rest were hardened against such acceptance quoting Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 29:10, and Psalm 69:22,23

Verse 11 continues:

May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

I won’t get into the whole “provoking jealousness” or “zealousness” thing right now since I’ve written about it before, but I want to compare two conditions:

Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”

Acts 28:28 (NASB)

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

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

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

Romans 11:25-27 [see Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9 (see Septuagint); Jer. 31:33,34] (NASB)

So on the one hand, the Jewish people, most of them anyway, were temporarily hardened against coming to faith in Messiah, and on the other hand, a time will come when all Israel will be saved.

In Isaiah 6:10, God states that if Israel would turn (make Teshuvah), God would heal them, but I’ve read a paper by Dr. Mark D. Nanos titled ‘Callused,’ Not ‘Hardened’: Paul’s Revelation of Temporary Protection Until All Israel Can Be Healed (PDF) in which he states this “hardening” can be compared to calluses on the hands, which are a temporary protection after injury (I lift free weights regularly at a local gym so I know about calluses on my hands) and which can be softened and eventually healed.

Paul was pulling from Jeremiah 31 which famously contains some of the New Covenant language:

They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34 (NASB)

It all comes back to the New Covenant and how we can understand it applying to Israel and the nations.

And just for emphasis, lest anyone be mistaken:

Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name:

“If this fixed order departs
From before Me,” declares the Lord,
“Then the offspring of Israel also will cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”

Thus says the Lord,

“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 31:35-37 (NASB)

Cutting through the metaphorical language, God is saying that one of the blessings of the New Covenant for Israel,  all the Jewish people, is that they will always be a people and a nation before Him and He will never cast them off or reject them.

It doesn’t get much plainer than that.

MitzvahIn his sermon, Pastor said that Acts 28:17-21 was just the latest in Paul’s declarations of innocence that he had said or done nothing against the Torah of Moses, the Jewish customs, and the Temple (See Acts 13, 22, and 23). In other words, he never, ever taught the Jews in the diaspora not to circumcise their sons and to not observe the mitzvot in the manner of the their fathers. Paul also kept the commandments in obedience to the Covenant Israel made with God, and in spite of what men like John MacArthur have said, there is no concrete evidence that this was some sort of “transitional period” in the Bible between Jewish observance of the Torah commandments and being “Law free”. We have every indication that Paul never saw any sort of change in a Jew’s duty to God based on the New Covenant, and a careful reading of all of the New Covenant language in the Prophets indicates that the conditions of the New Covenant are identical to the conditions of the Sinai Covenant, that is, the mitzvot of Moses.

One of the questions in the Sunday school teacher’s notes is:

How is God bringing His good out of the blindness of the Jewish nation? Has He forsaken them? Have you or I? (Rom. 11:1 & 25-29, Zech. 12:9-31:1)

I asked the teacher if he was talking about the Jews in Paul’s time or in ours and he said “ours”. My response was that I was aware of a number of Jewish people who had come to faith in Messiah within their own context.

I’m sure everyone in class missed the “within their own context” part or at least no one mentioned it or asked what I meant by that. What I meant by that, in case you can’t guess, is that I’m aware of Jews who are disciples of the Master who live fully realized Jewish lives, observant to the mitzvot and the customs of their fathers and zealous for the Torah of Moses, given its full meaning through faith in Moshiach.

“You see, brother, how many (tens of) thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law…”

Acts 21:20 (NASB)

As it was then, may it be so now.

The message is so close and so nearly apparent to the Christians I study with at church that I still can’t believe people aren’t tripping over it, but somehow they still can’t quite see it. They still feel all this means that in the end, the Jewish remnant is going to convert to Christianity and that they will still be a Jewish people and national Israel (as such), but there will be no practice and lived experience of Judaism, the traditions, the mitzvot, the Torah as a continuation of a Jew’s duty and obligation to the God of their fathers and in obedience to the Sinai and New Covenants.

I try to steer the class a little bit closer to the realization of a continuation of lived Jewish experience among Jewish disciples of Messiah each week, but in order to put it right under their noses (so to speak), I’d have to hijack the class, and that’s not going to happen. More realistically, I’d have to teach a class, because the answer to all this can’t be properly expressed in response to the questions asked by another teacher in a lesson that is less than sixty minutes long.

Acts 28:23-25 describes a day-long “sermon” if you will, given by Paul to the leading Jewish people in Rome. He cites both the Torah and the Prophets to prove his case, convincingly enough to bring some to faith. What did he say? I don’t know, but in class, I said I wished Luke had written it all down, just as I wish he had written down all the Master said during that fateful journey on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).

The answers are there if we just knew where to look and especially, if we knew how to interpret from the perspective of the Master, Paul, and their Jewish audiences. I said out loud in class (and there were a couple of guests visiting the church who were passing through from South Carolina on their way to California to see their kids, so it was kind of “cheeky” of me) that I study the Bible and Christianity through a Jewish (I didn’t say Messianic Jewish) lens because it’s impossible to understand Jesus without understanding the Old Testament from a Jewish perspective.

Abraham and the starsOf course, it’s more complicated than that, but basically, I’m trying to tell these folks that they can study the Bible using standard Christian theology and doctrine all day long and still hit a wall in their ability to learn and comprehend based on the limitations contained in Christian tradition.

I don’t know if they’ll ever have an “ah ha” moment when the light bulb goes off over their collective heads and they actually “get” what I’m saying. If they ever do, they’ll either become highly curious and want to know more or (and this is probably more likely), they’ll figure I’m a heretic, an apostate, or a cult member, and boot me out of the church.

Pastor Randy said that the mistake the Jews of Paul’s day made was to pursue Rabbinic Judaism and not the plain meaning of the Biblical text, but in reading Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36 and the other prophets who speak of the New Covenant, this is the plain meaning of the text!

The last question in the Sunday school teacher’s notes is:

Do you and I allow rejection to affect our ministry or love for others?

Pastor asked something similar at the end of his notes about how it is the responsibility of every believer to proclaim the Gospel and what are we actually doing about it?

What am I doing about it? Certainly, I’m blogging incessantly but that’s not enough since by and large, I’m reaching an audience that already has a conceptualization of the Bible similar to my own. One of the responses to his question the Pastor gave was to direct us to ask God to give us a “burden for the lost.”

But what about the “lost” in the Church? What about all those Christians in all those churches who read a truncated Gospel or worse, those who don’t read the Bible at all and just depend on their Pastor or their teachers to tell them what the Bible is saying? Even under the best of circumstances (and at the church I attend, the perspectives on the Bible, Jewish people, and Israel are pretty good), they still will get only part of the story. They’ll never understand why Paul went to the Jew first and only afterward to the Gentile. They’ll never understand that the Good News of Moshiach is even better news for Jewish Israel than it is for the Gentile nations. They’ll never get that the “better promises” (Hebrews 8) are better for Israel and that it is only through God’s redemptive plan for Israel that we people of the nations have any hope at all.

Paul said he was in chains in Rome for the “hope of Israel”. We are here because of that hope, too. But the Church will never know the full extent of what that hope means unless they open their eyes. To that degree, Isaiah 6:10 could have been talking about the “lost of the Church” as well as Israel.

Only by grasping the meaning of the New Covenant blessings for Israel and then what they mean to a grafted in Gentile humanity will our hearts become sensitive, our ears learn to hear, and our eyes begin to see, and when we return to the Jewish King, God will heal us too, after He heals His people Israel.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Eternal Judgment

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, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

Hebrews 6:1-2 (NASB)

As I mentioned in last week’s review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon The Resurrection of the Dead from his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews lectures, the following message “The Eternal Judgment” wasn’t recorded, thus I cannot listen to it and write my review.

However, that material was included in Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity, so I’ll review the chapter (Chapter 10) instead.

But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”

Acts 24:24-25 (NASB)

Lancaster introduces his chapter by describing the marriage of Felix, the Roman governor over Judea, to the Jewish princess Drusilla, youngest daughter of King Herod Agrippa the first. Supposedly, Felix hired a sorcerer to use occult means to get Drusilla to abandon her husband and marry him. Felix wasn’t a very nice man.

In today’s world, intermarriage between a Jew and a Gentile, at least in Orthodox Judaism, is highly discouraged. How much more embarrassing was it for a Jewish princess to marry, not just any Roman, but the occupying governor over Judea?

But then, although it was (according to Lancaster) Drusilla’s idea to have a private discussion with Paul, it was Felix’s response that was the point of this story. And while resurrection of the dead might seem like a great deal, what about “the judgment to come?”

It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.

Hebrews 9:27

Associating concepts like “righteousness” and “resurrection” with “self-control” and “judgment” would probably not be comfortable to hear, assuming Felix took Paul seriously, since Felix could hardly be considered a pious individual, even by Roman standards. In fact, if we really gave it some thought and realized that the resurrection and final judgment are in our future as well, how comfortable would we feel about who we are and what we’ve done (or are doing)?

Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

Matthew 25:30-33 (NASB)

Judge NotI won’t quote all of the scriptures Lancaster lists to illustrate Jesus and the final judgment, but he does make a convincing case that if God does not exact justice for human wrongdoing in this life, He most certainly will in the next.

In Messianic Judaism, we rehearse for the final judgment every year in the high holiday of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (Festival of Trumpets and Day of Atonement). Judaism treats high holidays as an annual dress rehearsal for the final eternal judgment. In anticipation of the holidays, we repent, confess sins, mend relationships, apologize, and try to make peace with both men and God.

-Lancaster, pg 127

This may sound somewhat familiar since I associated the topic of forgiveness with the high holidays in a recent blog post reviewing a chapter in Brad H. Young’s book The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation. In my review Young’s book, I said that most Christians wouldn’t (but should) automatically associate making amends with another person with how we will be forgiven (or not) by God at the final judgment.

Now Lancaster seems to be saying that the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the Jewish religious calendar has applications for Christians as well, since it is in the apostolic scriptures where we see a final judgment staring at us square in the face.

Except that since we’re “saved by the blood of Jesus,” we (that is, Christians) aren’t particularly worried about being judged. Jesus paid the price for our sins so we’ve got our “fire insurance” covered. No need to “rehearse” anything since we’ve already won, God is on our side, and everything is hunky dory.

Boy, that sounds arrogant.

While Rosh Hashanah, when the books are opened before the Heavenly court, and Yom Kippur, when the final verdicts are issued and the books are closed again, are not the actual final judgment, they prefigure this awesome and august event, and perhaps we shouldn’t play fast and loose with a living and infinite God. God can indeed issue decrees in the present age and in our lives in response to your actions and mine, but there will come that final day, even if we push it off into the back of our minds, when we will all be expected to stand in judgment.

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair on his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

Daniel 7:9-10

yom kippurLancaster goes on to describe “one like a son of man” stepping forward in this vision of the final judgment, to deliver the sentencing. He quoted from the apocryphal book Enoch (1 Enoch 69:27-29) and the following to illustrate the judgment seat of Messiah:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.

2 Corinthians 5:10-11

In these words, Paul expressed his motive for evangelism…Paul knew the fear of the LORD. To fear God is to believe that he exists, rewards, and punishes. Paul knew that eventually God will judge the wicked and reward the righteous. He taught that we must all stand before Messiah in the final judgment.

-Lancaster, pg 131

All of us? Won’t Christians just be there to pick up our rewards? We won’t have to give account for everything we’ve done wrong in our lives after becoming believers, will we?

What if we do?

We think that final judgment just means going to Heaven or Hell, but what if it also means we have to have our human lives stripped naked before us and relive everything we’ve done, both good and bad?

Yuck. Kind of makes you want to be more careful about all of those casual thoughts, words, and gestures you’re sure God is going to forgive because you’ve been saved and go to church every Sunday.

But it gets worse.

Generally speaking, the doctrine of the eternal judgment has fallen into disfavor. Perhaps this shift in emphasis from everlasting punishment to a blissful afterlife occurred as a natural swing of the theological pendulum. The medieval and Reformation-era church had an unhealthy fascination with the torments of hell. Evangelicals later demonstrated the same fixation, predicating their appeal for the gospel on the basis of avoiding damnation. The church framed Christianity primarily as an avenue of escape from everlasting fiery tortures and the pitchfork of Satan. We substituted the foundational doctrine of eternal judgment for the doctrine of eternal damnation.

-ibid, pg 132

justiceIt seems to be a mistake to trust in any extreme, either a fascination with damnation or an obsession with bliss. The former focuses on God’s judgment as if it were a terrible trap and the later on His mercy as if it is all-encompassing…no matter what we’ve actually done.

The eternal judgment is so basic and fundamental to our faith that the writer of the book of Hebrews considers it to be the milk. It is pretty simple. We believe that every human life has eternal significance — so much so that the deeds committed in this body will have ramifications that completely transcend time. That makes every moment of this life precious. It makes every opportunity to perform a good work (mitzvah) precious. It makes every sin utterly abhorrent. Every righteous deed merits eternal reward, and every sin earns eternal punishment. Ironically, the doctrine of the eternal judgment makes life in this temporary world all the more significant.

-ibid, pg 133

We can only imagine that what terrified (according to Lancaster) Felix so much was being resurrected into a world where an absolutely just God would judge him for all the acts of his life…and condemn him. Not a pleasant thought to be sure. We all want our pleasures and want to skip out (as much as we can get away with) on our responsibilities. Anyone who struggles with the “battle of the bulge” and against all reason and logic still can’t give up their Big Macs and Whoppers knows that self-disciple isn’t easy…even in the face of dire consequences.

What Did I Learn?

Are our names already written in the Book of Life or the Book of Death? Did God makes these decisions, who was to be commended and who was to be damned, before He ever manufactured our universe?

From God’s point of view, His timeless experience, things like “before,” “during,” and “after” most likely have no meaning. The creation of Adam from dust and opening the Book of Life at the final judgment exist in the same micro-second to Him. Who is and isn’t in the Book has been there for all time and won’t be written until the pages are opened at the very end of time. I hope you like paradox, because that’s all I have to offer as far as the mystic visions of final judgment are concerned.

DespairBut one thing seems clear. Paul taught that there is a final judgment. So did Jesus. And all humanity stands within it for life or for death.

It isn’t just that one “decision for Christ” that you made once upon a time by answering an altar call or raising your hand at a camp meeting. It’s everything you’ve done since then.

No, you can’t buy your way into Heaven but you can throw it all away. Even the best of the best of us is utterly corrupt when compared to a completely and absolutely Holy God. Who are we to compare?

Rabbi Eleazer taught his disciples to repent every day (See b. Shabb. 153a). The later rabbinic teachings regarding the ten days of awe and the day of Atonement mention three categories of people,the completely righteous, the completely wicked, and the “in-betweens” (See b. Rosh Hash. 16b). The rabbis obviously believed that most people fall into the “in-between” category and need to repent. The house of Shammai taught, “There will be three groups at the Day of Judgment — one thoroughly righteous, and one thoroughly wicked, and of the intermediate” (See b. ibid 16b-17a). Therefore Bailey may be correct when he notes, “Christ’s subtle humor shows through in this verse. The ‘righteous’ who ‘need no repentance’ do not exist” (Kenneth E. Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal). Most people need to repent and maintain a living relationship with God in their cultivation of personal spirituality.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 10: The Search: The Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin,” pg 195
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

If we believe Christ died for us then we should live like it. We should all live like people who’ve been given a second chance, living on borrowed time or rather time purchased for us when we didn’t deserve it.

If you think you are saved, don’t expect that you can sit on your laurels and gather your rewards before judgment. You, I, and everyone else will be judged on what we have done, what we are doing, and what we haven’t even thought of doing yet.

Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation…

2 Peter 3:11-15 (NASB)

Yom Kippur prayersMaybe observing the high holidays wouldn’t be such a bad idea for Christians. Many of us are so unused to facing the idea of judgment let alone responding to it with fasting, with prayer, with repentance, with fear and trembling, with begging for the forgiveness of those we have harmed, of begging God for mercy, though we are all like grass. At least if you’re an observant Jew, you know you are accountable and that God expects you to take that seriously with your intention and your behavior.

If you see something that is broken, fix it.

If you cannot fix all of it, fix some of it.

But do not say there is nothing you can do. Because, if that were true, why would this broken thing have come into your world?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“If It’s Broken”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Addendum: I found out (thanks, Alfredo) after I wrote this review that Lancaster re-recorded the content for this topic on audio available on the web: The Final Judgment.

What I Learned in Church Today: Christianity is Jewish

Get past the title. Get past the title. Just keep reading.

Is Christianity a Judaism? I think most Christians and most Jews would say “no,” but last Sunday morning in church, Pastor Randy said it was. In fact, it was the second Sunday he’s said such a thing.

Christianity is a Judaism?

I was kind of surprised that he said that. He also said that when Jesus returns, it will be as a Jewish King, the Messiah and he will still be Jewish.

You might be thinking “oh duh, of course he’ll be Jewish,” but there are a lot of Christians out there who believe his being Jewish died on the cross with him and that Jesus was resurrected as someone more “generic” in terms of ethnicity.

The last few times when Pastor has spoken with me at church, practically the first words out of his mouth as we’re shaking hands is, “I’ve been reading your blog.” He hasn’t said much else to me lately, so I’ve tended to take that as a message meaning he’s not really happy about what I’ve been writing. But now I wonder.

I’ve certainly been hammering away at the Jewishness of the ekklesia of the Messiah and how the Christian Church, as it exists today, won’t be what the ekklesia will be like in Messianic days.

As I was quickly taking notes on the sermon (Acts 25:23-26:32), I continued to reflect on the implications of Pastor’s words. Although I have no problem with any of the statements he made, I wondered how the rest of the congregation was taking it. No one mentioned it in Sunday school, although we were studying Ephesians 4 rather than Pastor’s message, so there wasn’t a natural opportunity to bring up the subject.

In speaking on Acts 26:4-18, Pastor referred to it as “A Conversion Story” but oddly enough, he defined “conversion” as making a “u-turn,” turning away from darkness and turning to light, to God.

That sounds more like teshuvah than conversion and in any event, as Dr. Larry Hurtado mentioned in a comment to me on his blog:

In any case, Paul didn’t undergo a “conversion” to “Christianity.” He refers to his experience as a prophet-like “calling” (e.g., Gal. 1:13-15), and there was no “Christianity” (as a separate religion) to which he could “convert” as a Jew. We could describe the former “pagans” (gentiles) that formed his churches as “converting” from the worship of their various ancestral deities to the God of the Bible/Israel.

paul-on-the-road-to-damascusSo Dr. Hurtado would call it “A Prophet-Like Calling Story” while using Pastor’s own definition, I could call the Acts 9 event “A Teshuvah Story”.

No, Paul wasn’t repenting of being Jewish or of practicing Judaism. Far from it. However, we could say that he had to make teshuvah relative to his disbelief in Yeshua as the Messiah and opposing God’s plan of using the ekklesia of “the Way” to bring Jews and Gentiles to Hashem and inaugurate the New Covenant in our world.

“So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?”

Acts 26:4-8 (NASB)

I’m pulling a lot of my interpretation of this section of scripture, not only from D. Thomas Lancaster’s lectures on the New Covenant, but his sermon series The Holy Epistle to the Hebrews.

Paul continues to identify himself as a Pharisee, living in the strictest sense of that stream of Judaism, and that he has the “hope of the promise made by God to” his “fathers”, the hope of the resurrection, of life from the dead. He even asks his Roman audience as well as King Agrippa why they should find it so difficult to believe that the God who created the universe could also raise the dead back to life, thus extending the promise beyond just the Jewish people and making it a hope for all human beings.

Apostle Paul preachingIt may have seemed that Paul was the prisoner, but he appears to have made a captive audience of his jailers and accusers in delivering the message of the Good News.

I did have the opportunity to discuss part of Pastor’s sermon with one young fellow in Sunday school. After class let out, he had some questions about a part of Ephesians he’d been studying and thought for some reason I could help answer his queries.

In the course of our conversation, I realized part of the problem many late second temple period Jewish groups had with accepting Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah.

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Acts 1:6-8 (NASB)

Even Yeshua’s disciples believed that the Messiah would first raise Israel as the head of all the nations, defeat her enemies, and ascend the Throne of David, and only afterward reconcile the Gentiles to God. Saying that the Messiah died, was resurrected, and ascended into Heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand and that before he returned to take the throne, the Gentiles would be brought alongside Israel in the worship of Hashem was reversing the expected order of things.

For a lot of Jews, it must have seemed pretty bogus to say that Gentiles could be brought into the ekkelsia, into a Jewish community and worship space, as equal co-participants while the Messiah was not yet physically ruling as King over Israel and over the rest of the world.

Paul knew the truth but he had a special insight. He had received two visions of the Messiah (Acts 9:3-8, Acts 22:17-22) and was caught up to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) and taught inexpressible words that he was not permitted to speak. For those Jews and Gentiles who believed, they did so from a profound sense of faith, since even though Paul could be persuasive, his words were not always convincing to every one who listened.

King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.” Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”

Acts 26:27-29 (NASB)

When Agrippa said “become a Christian,” the term “Christian” was not used in the same sense as we understand it today, because, as I’ve mentioned on numerous previous occasions, faith in Messiah Yeshua was not a religious stream distinct from Judaism at that point in history. Agrippa might have just as well said “make me a disciple of the Way”. And it was well-known that Agrippa was hardly devout and pious though he doubtless had some education in the traditions of his fathers (for Paul knew Agrippa believed the Prophets).

The Jewish PaulDoes that bring us back to thinking of Christianity as a Judaism, or am I the one getting things reversed?

During his lifetime, Paul obviously considered faith in Yeshua as Messiah King to be the next, natural, logical extension in the development of God’s plan for Israel. Yeshua was and is the beginning of God’s starting to fulfill the New Covenant promises to Israel, but those promises include bringing the Gentiles into worship of Hashem by coming along side Israel and becoming attached to her. Messiah was the doorway for the Gentiles to enter that forward-progressing stream of God’s plan for Israel, not by making Gentiles into Jews through the proselyte rite, but allowing them (us) to remain of the nations and yet, as was prophesied, enjoying the blessings of the spirit and the hope of the resurrection into the age of peace and tranquility.

I’d like to believe that some of the things I’ve written lately have been positively received by Pastor Randy, but that’s probably arrogant presumption on my part. However, his sermon last Sunday did seem to speak to many of the themes I write about on my blog. I not only found myself in general agreement with Pastor’s sermon but found myself learning some things I hadn’t noticed before in my reading of this part of Luke’s “Acts”.

Is Christianity a Judaism? In its current form, we can say that it owes a great deal to its Hebrew or Jewish roots, but there’s a lot about that “Judaism” the Church as left by the wayside. But as Pastor said, the return of Jesus is the return of the Jewish Messiah King to the Throne of David in the City of David.

With Jewish devotees cheering and Gentile disciples alongside them crying out in joyous approval, Messiah will raise Israel up as the most exalted of all nations, rebuild the Temple, return the Jewish exiles to their Land, rule the world with a rod of iron, and bring peace to all peoples.

What will the ekklesia be then? It will be Jewish, but it should be remembered that “every knee shall bow” (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11), not just of the Jews but of everyone, the whole world.