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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 95 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

Numbers 14:27-35 (NRSV)

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

Not enter what?

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Shabbat
  2. Israel
  3. The Messianic Kingdom

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

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

Hebrews 3:12-14 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 4:1 (NRSV)

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

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

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

However there is this:

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

Hebrews 4:8-9 (NRSV)

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

What Did I Learn?

Let’s revisit a few verses:

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

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

Hebrews 4:3-4 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Family of God

Hebrews 3:1-6 contrasts and compares the respective stations of Moses and Messiah in the household of God in this sermon about our obligations to one another within the body of Messiah.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Nine: The Family of God
Originally presented on March 2, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster launched into this week’s sermon referencing the Bill Gaither Trio chart The Family of God. I don’t think Lancaster is actually a fan of country gospel music (and I know I’m not), but it must have been about the best way he could think of to introduce his topic.

Let me take a more conventional approach:

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

Hebrews 3:1-6 (NASB)

As always, Lancaster managed to unpack these six small verses, revealing a broad spectrum of hidden meaning.

The “family” part is first addressed in the writer of Hebrews’ use of the term “brethren” or “brothers” to address his audience, but that’s only scratching the surface.

Next, Lancaster takes on “Jesus the Apostle.” We don’t usually think of Jesus as an Apostle but this only means “sent out one” which in Hebrew is “Shalach”, a messenger representing the sender such that he possesses the same authority and identity as the sender. If Jesus were the Shalach of God, then Jesus could perform acts not only in the name of God, but acts that would normally only be performed by God.

Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in every way. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

Genesis 24:1-4 (NASB)

The High PriestYou can read the rest of chapter 24 to get the details, but the servant of Abraham was Abraham’s Shalach, his sent out one. It was as if Abraham himself had returned to his homeland, to the city of Nahor, to seek a bride for Isaac.

Also we see Jesus the High Priest which, according to Lancaster, links to Moses. We don’t usually think of Moses as the High Priest. That’s who Aaron was. But before Aaron was inaugurated as Priest, Moses functioned in that role: both Prophet and High Priest.

Try to keep up because all of these details are important and they are interrelated.

He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.

Hebrews 3:2 (NASB)

Now we return to the theme of “family”. The term “house” can have two meanings: “household” such as the family members and the household servants or slaves, and “house,” meaning the physical structure.

Moreover, I tell you that the Lord will build a house for you. When your days are fulfilled that you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up one of your descendants after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father and he shall be My son; and I will not take My lovingkindness away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. But I will settle him in My house and in My kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.

1 Chronicles 17:10-14 (NASB)

This is God addressing David through the prophet Nathan. King David wanted to build God a house, a physical structure, the Temple, but God responded by telling David that He, God, would build a house for David, a household, a Davidic dynasty, and it would be the Son of David, Solomon, who would build God’s house, and God would be a Father to Solomon and Solomon would be a Son to God.

This is just packed with information, and I bet you didn’t think David would be entering the picture here.

Another scripture is necessary to flesh this out.

Not so, with My servant Moses, he is faithful in all My household…

Numbers 12:7 (NASB)

Apprehending most of the rest of the verses I originally quoted from Hebrews 3 above, We see the passage from 1 Chronicles 17 also containing a double meaning of Son of David as Solomon and as Messiah. God not only builds the House of David through Solomon as the Davidic Kingship leading to Messiah, but the Messiah, Son of David will build a household for God…the body of Messiah, for that body is also the Temple of God.

TempleIt’s important to note right here that the household, that is the people living in the structure, don’t actually replace the structure. That would be insane. It would be like a family coming to their house one evening, leveling the entire building, and then trying to go to sleep that night in the hole left behind. So too does the “family of God” built by Messiah not replace the actual physical house of God, and remember, from Lancaster’s point of view, the Epistle to the Hebrews was composed while Herod’s Temple was still standing.

Now, why must Messiah be established as superior to Moses? The standard Christian interpretation is supersessionistic. The grace of Jesus is greater than the Torah of Moses and thus replaces the Torah. That’s what we’ve all been taught. But as Lancaster says, that’s not what the writer is trying to say.

We have yet again another Kal VaChomer or light to heavy argument. It’s as if the writer is saying, if Abraham, Moses, and the Angels are all highly exalted and esteemed in holiness, how much more so is the Messiah highly exalted and esteemed in holiness?

Moses is the faithful servant of the household but the servant isn’t the heir.

Sinai is tall and exceedingly awesome but Messiah is taller than Sinai. How can Messiah in the form of a man be taller than Sinai? Sounds like Midrash, doesn’t it? The answer is that Messiah is standing on summit of Sinai. All that Messiah is, if you will, is built on Sinai, built on the Torah, the culmination of Torah, the perfection of Torah. Jesus is the capstone, the stone placed at the top juncture of the structure of Torah, holding it all together and yet also being the pinnacle.

Jesus doesn’t complete Torah by replacing it but by perfecting it, by living a perfected life through Torah.

Recall earlier sermons that said the intent of this letter was to warn the Jewish audience who were in danger of losing access to the Temple in Jerusalem that they were not to let that distract them from what is greater than the Temple, Messiah. The letter’s audience were also the household, the Temple of God built by Messiah, gathered together, as family, as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters.

Again, the household does not replace the house but what good is there in an empty house? The house needs a household. They go together. And even when the physical Temple doesn’t exist, the family is still together, but the structure, if the household didn’t exist, is just an empty shell.

What Did I Learn?

Lancaster’s sermon reminded me somewhat of what I wrote about recently in Fellowship: What I Learned in Church. Part of who we are in Messiah is united, we’re family, even when we fuss and feud with each other, we defend each other when threatened by those outside the family. That’s what fellowship means. It’s more than having friends at church, it is our family in Messiah, we are brothers and sisters through our faith.

UnityI always thought Christians calling each other “Brother Fred” or “Sister Sally” sounded kind of dumb, but it’s an expression of what Lancaster is trying to say, and what I believe the writer of Hebrews was trying to say to his audience. Family members encourage each other when there are hard times, and the Hellenistic Jews in and around Jerusalem were going through hard times in the years just before the Temple’s destruction.

Lancaster said that being a disciple of the Master was like getting married. You may become a believer because of who the Messiah is, kind of like falling in love, and in this way it’s just like a man and woman getting married. But you don’t just marry the person, you marry their family. Anyone who’s been married for more than a few weeks or a few months (and I’ve been married for almost thirty-two years) knows what I mean. Even if you love your spouse, if they have “problem” family members, you can’t just treat those people like strangers or acquaintances. They’re family whether you want them to be or not.

That’s probably one of the most difficult things about church for some people, loving God and worshiping Jesus at church (the structure) but having to put up with some pretty pesky “family members” in church (the household).

The second of the two greatest commandments of the Master (Matthew 22:39 citing Leviticus 19:18) is to love your neighbor as yourself. According to the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), just about anyone is your “neighbor,” so we are called upon to love everyone.

But there is another love the Master mentions and even commands:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

John 13:34 (NASB)

How did Jesus love his disciples? How did Jesus love the world? By giving his life for them. It is this heightened commandment to love that we are to have for each other as believers, as disciples, and as brothers and sisters.

That’s a tall order for people who sometimes don’t even like each other.

A little over four months ago, I wrote on the topic of apostasy, particularly criticizing those in our little corner of the blogosphere who feel perfectly free to rake anyone over the coals publicly who have dared to leave the faith for any reason whatsoever.

Lancaster mentioned in the closing moments of his sermon that when family leaves us or is taken from us…if we lose a brother or a sister, it’s incredibly painful. If you have a brother or a sister in your actual family, imagine if that person died. How would you feel losing a member of your own family, someone you grew up with, someone you fought with, someone who, in spite of everything, was part of you and you were part of them?

The brideHow would you feel if they got fed up with the family and left, or they became incredibly discouraged by the family and left? Would you be hurt? Would you be angry? Would you be insulted?

I think that’s part of what inspired the tremendous backlash I witnessed a few months ago when a brother left the family. Sure, he had reasons, probably very good reasons. He’s found or rediscovered a family and I’m not writing to debate his decision.

The writer of Hebrews was addressing what Lancaster believes to be a profoundly discouraged group of Jewish believers in Jerusalem who were at severe risk of leaving the faith of Messiah. From their point of view, they probably had good reasons for moving in that direction as well, but the letter’s writer was begging them not to.

“Consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession,” he said. Consider Jesus. Consider who he is and who you are in him. Sure, times are tough. You love the Temple and it is being taken from you by those who do not love our Master. But consider Jesus. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Persevere for the sake of he who is greater than Abraham, greater than Moses, greater than even the Angels through whom the Torah was delivered to the Israelites and ultimately to mankind.

Moses was the faithful servant in God’s House, and Messiah is the faithful Son over God’s House. They both gave their lives for the sake of God’s household, God’s people, God’s family. Though we are not exalted to the level of the Master nor to the level of Moses, yet are we not also asked to give all that we have for the sake of our Father in Heaven and for each other as family? Are we not the Bride of Christ?

The Christianization of Acts 20

On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight.

Acts 20:7 (NRSV)

Christians sometimes cite Acts 20:7 as evidence that the early believers met on Sundays: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread.” The narrative does not support that interpretation. If Paul met with the Troasian believers on Sunday morning, they had a very long church service. Paul spoke until midnight: “Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”

The Greek text of Acts does not indicate that they met on Sunday morning at all. Instead it literally says, “On the first of the Sabbath …” The word “day” does not appear in the Greek. According to the Jewish reckoning of time, the first of the week begins Saturday after sunset.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
from Torah Club Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
Tzav (“Command”): Acts 20:1-21:14, pg 653

It’s been awhile since I dug into a Torah Club study but I needed to get my bearings.

I probably shouldn’t even write this but part of my returning to church is to “experience church” relative to my own unique perspectives and practices.

I’d like to think that Pastor Randy, the head Pastor at the church I attend, and I have formed a friendship, and within the confines of that relationship, we are free to engage in candid and forthright conversation. He reads my blog, when he has time (he’s a really busy guy), so nothing I put here is meant to be kept from him.

I know that my criticism of “the Church” does frustrate him on occasion and I think he is authentically puzzled why, when he presents his educated and logical arguments about theology, I just don’t “get it” and accept his basic understanding of the fundamentals of Christianity.

Last Sunday morning, Pastor’s message was based on Acts 20:1-12. I was particularly interested in his lesson on the following verses:

On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

Acts 20:7-12 (NRSV)

Pastor always includes a page of notes in the Church bulletin, and I review what he’s going to talk about before services start. When I came across the section called ”Parenthetic Conclusion: Sunday worship,” I knew where he was headed. Then there was the quote from Justin Martyr he inserted. I’ll only use part of it here:

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.

-Justin Martyr
The First Apology
“Weekly Worship of Christians” (c. CE 155)

Justin MartyrI won’t try to replicate all of Pastor’s points, but he did say the phrase “first day of the week” (although as Lancaster states above, the word “day” does not appear in the literal Greek) appears only three times in the New Testament (actually, there are a few more). In addition to the above-quoted verse, it can be found in Mark 16:9, the declaration of when Jesus rose from the tomb, and 1 Corinthians 16:2, which is part of Paul’s instructions to set aside funds for Paul’s intended donation to the poor and needy in Jerusalem.

There were a number of conclusions Pastor derived from Acts 20:7-12:

  1. The Roman rather than Jewish calendar was being used to fix the date of the gathering, so that we see they were meeting on Sunday evening rather than Saturday night after Shabbat.
  2. The breaking of bread was likely an enactment of the “Lord’s Supper” indicating the practice of communion.
  3. Preaching and teaching of scripture was a common activity in such assemblies.
  4. Collecting tithes for the church on Sunday was becoming a more common practice.

Both Pastor and my Sunday school teacher said this is evidence that “church services” within Paul’s lifetime weren’t all that different from what we have today: preaching the Word, meeting on Sunday, gathering tithes on Sunday (presumably as part of the service), and taking communion.

Sunday Worship

I’ll get into my reaction in a moment, but the one thing that puzzled me was Pastor’s proof that Paul had to be meeting with these believers in Troas on Sunday evening rather than just after Shabbat had ended (Saturday at sundown). He says that if this was a Saturday night, Paul, who intended to leave by ship the next day, would have had to wait two days, until Monday, to depart, so it had to be Sunday night.

But I either couldn’t hear the rationale or it went by so fast that I just plain missed it. I’ve read Acts 20 numerous times since listening to the sermon, but I just can’t see where this is coming from. I emailed Pastor after I got home from services asking for details, and hopefully he’s respond soon. Once I receive a response, I’ll edit this blog post to reflect his views.

Addendum, Tuesday, March 18: Pastor responded to my email with his explanation. He’s pressed for time, so the rationale is brief. I’ll put it in the comments below rather than interrupt the flow of the narrative here more than I already am.

Justin Martyr, Sunday, and Supersessionism

Now to my response. In the absence of the information Pastor possesses regarding why the assembly at Troas must have been meeting on Sunday, it is my opinion that a shift from a Saturday to Sunday Sabbath occurs here much too early in history. We have Justin Martyr’s writing declaring that Sunday is the proper day of Christian worship, but that isn’t published until some time after Paul’s death (and I find the reasoning, that it’s the day God separated light and darkness, completely disconnected from anything taught by Jesus or the Apostles). I don’t know that Martyr is relying exclusively on his interpretation of scripture and I suspect that he, like many of the other “church fathers,” may have had attitudes about Jewish people and Judaism that colored his thinking and possibly had him making doctrinal decisions about practice based on that bias.

I know Wikipedia is a poor source to quote, but it will have to do for my current analysis:

Justin was confident that his teaching was that of the Church at large. He knows of a division among the orthodox only on the question of the millennium and on the attitude toward the milder Jewish Christianity, which he personally is willing to tolerate as long as its professors in their turn do not interfere with the liberty of the Gentile converts; his millenarianism seems to have no connection with Judaism, but he believes firmly in a millennium, and generally in the Christian eschatology.

Justin saw himself as a scholar, although his skills in Hebrew were either non-existent or minimal. His opposition to Judaism was typical of church leaders in his day but does not descend to the level of anti-semitism. After collaborating with a Jewish convert to assist him with Hebrew, Justin published an attack on Judaism based upon a no-longer-extant text of a Midrash.

-from the Wikipedia page on Justin Martyr

Economic supersessionism is used in the technical theological sense of function. It is the view that the practical purpose of the nation of Israel in God’s plan is replaced by the role of the Church. It is represented by writers such as Justin Martyr, Augustine, and Barth.

-from the Wikipedia page on Supersessionism (Replacement Theology)

HavdalahNone of what I just quoted is rock-solid evidence that Martyr’s declaration of Sunday as the proper meeting day for Christians was motivated by supersessionistic ideology (and it was stated above that Martyr was probably not anti-Semitic), but it does open the door to the possibility that Martyr may not have been operating purely on his understanding of scripture. Based on my understanding of early supersessionistic bias and the church fathers (See my four-part article ”Origins of Supersessionism in the Church” in issues 109-112 of Messiah Journal), I believe there was a focused effort to create a set of practices of worship that specifically separated the budding Gentile Christian Church from its Jewish origins and heritage, replacing the Jewish institutions to which Paul and the other Apostles were accustomed with completely separate rituals, including a calendar disconnected from the Jewish holy days.

Please keep in mind that I have no problem with Christianity choosing a day of the week for corporate worship, but I consider it a tradition based on an emerging (in the mid-second century) reverence for the day of Jesus’ resurrection, not necessarily on a decision of Paul or any of the other Apostles.

Breaking Bread

Depending on the translation you’re using for Acts 20:7, the words the NRSV Bible renders as “break bread” are also read as “the Lord’s Supper” (New Living Translation) or “break the Eucharist” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English). Actually, all of the other translations I’m looking at just say “break bread”. I can’t access the Greek for this term, so I don’t know if it contains something that doesn’t translate into English, but, as Sigmund Freud is supposed to have said, ”Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” In other words, just because something is longer than it is wide, doesn’t mean it’s a phallic symbol.

Applied to the current context, I might say, “Sometimes breaking bread is just breaking bread, grabbing a loaf and tearing it in two or more pieces.” The term “breaking bread,” as far as I know, could just as easily indicate a meal of fellowship. It’s typical to “break bread” with friends and companions as a sign of affiliation and trust. Why does it have to mean communion unless we’re trying to make this verse fit a later institution created by the Church?

We were gathered for the disciples came, A.V. and T.R.; discoursed with for preached unto, A.V.; intending for ready, A.V.; prolonged for continued, A.V. The first day of the week. This is an important evidence of the keeping of the Lord’s day by the Church as a day for their Church assemblies (see Luke 24:1, 30, 35; John 20:19, 26; 1 Corinthians 16:2). To break bread. This is also an important example of weekly communion as the practice of the first Christians. Comparing the phrase, “to break bread,” with St. Luke’s account of the institution of the Holy Eucharist (Luke 22:19) and the passages just quoted in Luke 24, and St. Paul’s language (1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:24), it is impossible not to conclude that the breaking of bread in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is an essential part of the holy sacrament, which man may not for any specious reasons omit.

-from the Pulpit Commentary on Acts 20:7

The key scripture as far as “the Lord’s Supper” goes seems to be 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 but Acts 20:7 only mentions “breaking bread”. In comparison to that verse, almost all translations of 1 Corinthians 11:20 refer to “the Lord’s Supper”, so I can only imagine the original Greek is more specific here (only the Aramaic Bible in Plain English states, ”When therefore you assemble, it is not according to what is appropriate for the day of our Lord that you eat and drink.”).

I’m going to have to set the early initiation of what Christians call “communion” today to one side for the moment except to say that it is certainly not definitive that the group in Troas was assembled for the specific purpose of taking a weekly communion or Lord’s Supper. It’s even possible, as I mentioned above, that the very concept of a communion might have been a later invention of the Church.

Tithing

We see a strong record of Paul collecting money or directing the various assemblies to set aside money which he would collect when he arrived (1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32). However, we also see Paul having a specific concern for the poor in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:10). Paul’s companions we find in Acts 20:4 were to accompany Paul to Jerusalem, presumably with donations from the various congregations they represented.

TithingSo Paul was collecting money for the poor and needy in Jerusalem, but this does not mean he was collecting money to pay for the operational costs of the local churches or the Jerusalem “church”.

No, I’m not saying that it’s wrong for the church to ask for donations from the congregants to support the costs incurred in running such an institution, I’m just saying the practice can’t be directly attributed to specific references in the Bible.

It is true that in ancient times, the Israelites did donate materials and services in the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert (Ex. 35:4-36:7), and King Solomon heavily taxed his citizens and required tens of thousands to contribute labor in the service of building the Temple in Jerusalem (starting 1 Kgs 6). But again, none of these point specifically to a church tithe. Frankly, neither does Abraham’s offering to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:20).

But like I said, I don’t think it’s wrong for the administrative office of the local church to request that members and attendees contribute to the upkeep of the church, since those attending are consuming the church’s resources. I also think it’s reasonable and Biblical for churches to collect money for the poor and even money to support missionaries (Paul alluded that he deserved to be supported but preferred to support himself to avoid being a burden). But I maintain that the modern concept of tithing, especially by having men pass around metal plates through the pews so that people can give their weekly donation, isn’t exactly what we see in Acts 20 or any of the other referenced scriptures.

Resurrection Day

I’m returning to the issue of Sunday here but with an eye on it being a day of reverence early on in the first century community of “the Way.” Do we actually see concrete evidence that the day of the Master’s resurrection was directly revered and added to (or replaced) the list of holy days traditionally observed in the various Judaisms? Did the followers of Christ move away from a Sabbath rest because Sunday became so incredibly important to them?

There’s no smoking gun but a lot of inference. I know that Sunday was an important day of gathering in the mid-second century, but is that because of what was gleaned from the Bible, or because the men establishing Sunday as the Christian assembly day needed to separate their religion from Judaism? In the latter case, the “invention” of Sunday worship would have come after the Apostolic Era ended and the church fathers would have just “mined” the various scriptures and verses to support such a decision, declaring it “Biblical” and “Holy Doctrine” of the Church.

Revelation 1:10 was brought up in Pastor’s sermon as well. John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” when he had his well-known (but not always well understood) set of revelations and visions, but what did “the Lord’s Day” mean to him at that time? It’s assumed by many Christians to mean “Sunday” but Pastor thinks rather that it indicates Resurrection Day, that is, Easter.

Frankly, I don’t think anyone knows, and I think Christian theologians have developed various educated theories over the centuries. Each church denomination has adopted a set of practices that appear to map to certain parts of the Bible, but the question for me is which came first?

Do we believe, for example, that Sunday is the official day of Christian worship because it was established in the Bible, or was Sunday established nearly a century after the Apostles were all in their graves because the leaders of the Gentile Christian church needed to separate their movement from Judaism (and in this case, especially Shabbat observance) and they found portions of scripture they could leverage to support their requirements?

Past and Present

I know that sounds terribly cynical and I know this will make a lot of Christians feel hurt and angry. I know it can’t possibly please Pastor Randy when I write these things, and I know he’s being absolutely honest and sincere when he preaches on Acts 20 and draws conclusions that are consistent with modern Christian practices.

ShabbatHowever, I don’t think it’s all so clear. In fact, I believe if Paul were to walk into a Christian church today, even if he understood our language, he would hardly connect the experience to the practice of the assemblies he established in the diaspora nearly twenty centuries ago, and he absolutely wouldn’t see the Jewishness of everything he taught and the Jewish Messiah he lived and died for in modern Christian observance. I’m sure he’d wonder why modern disciples weren’t gathering on Shabbos.

I’m not saying modern Christian observance is bad or wrong as a set of practical traditions, just that it’s mostly not what Paul did. Yes, he’d understand collecting money for the poor. Yes, he’d understand preaching. Yes, he’d understand studying the scriptures with a learned teacher. Yes, he’d understand sharing a communal meal (though that’s more like Oneg than communion).

But I think it’s OK to admit that Christianity has evolved, and not in an entirely linear fashion, since the days when Paul planted his “churches.” I think it’s OK to admit that the majority of what Protestants believe and the majority of what they do has a history of more like five-hundred years rather than two-thousand. Evangelical Christianity is more a product of the Reformation than what you might call “Apostolic” or “Messianic Judaism”.

Purim

I knew it was Purim when I walked into the church Sunday morning. So did Pastor Randy and Pastor Virgil. So did those few people in the church I know to be Jewish. Most other people would have missed it, though. I kept pondering the significance of experiencing the “Christianization” of the scriptures in Acts 20 as I listened to the Pastor’s message in church on Purim. Why is there a desire to “rush” history, so to speak, and to give the early Judaism of our faith the bum’s rush out the door while the Pharisaic Apostle Paul (or Saul if you prefer) was still alive and desiring to reach Jerusalem before Shavuot or Pentecost (Acts 20:16). He’d already been delayed so he couldn’t be in the Holy city for the Pesach sacrifice and meal (Acts 20:5).

Paul and the Moadim

Paul was an observant Jew and as such, he desired to obey the mitzvot associated with the moadim, the appointed times chronicled in the Torah. This is a clue we should pay attention to. Paul’s desire to return to Jerusalem was connected to specific seasons and events, Passover and Pentecost, Pesach and Shavuot. Wouldn’t it make more sense to believe that Paul also revered the Shabbat as did his forefathers? The Church (big “C”) changed quite a lot of things later on, but for Paul, there was nothing inconsistent with being an Apostle of the Messiah and practicing the Judaism of the Way. In fact, departing from the Torah and the traditions would likely never have occurred to him.

Regrets and Conclusion

I’m actually feeling pretty down about having to write this. I’ve been keyed up since hearing the sermon. I was nervous around the others in Sunday school yesterday. I didn’t sleep well last night. Obviously this bothers me. Last week, I wrote about fellowship in the church and today it seems like I’m doing a big turn around by disagreeing with the conclusions of Pastor’s sermon. Believe me, I’m not disagreeing just to disagree. I’m not being oppositional or “anti-Church.” I’m being who I am as a believer operating with a particular understanding and perspective on the Bible. I’m looking through a different lens, I’m standing at a different look out point. The Bible I see looks a lot more “Jewish” than most of the people I worship with suspect. I apologize if what I’ve written results in hard feelings. That’s not my intention, believe me. But someone needs to stand up for the Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles, and represent who I believe he was and is, and what he was trying to teach.

I started writing this “meditation” early Sunday afternoon and stopped. I figured I needed a “cooler head” before actually getting into this, and I really thought about not writing it at all. I consulted with a good Christian friend. I agonized over it. Finally, I needed to do this. I’m sorry. It’s not against you, or Pastor, or anyone else. It’s for Paul and it’s to keep my head from exploding.

The Jewish PaulThere’s the Paul the Christian church sees, the murderous Jewish Pharisee who encountered Jesus on the way to Damascus one day and became blind. Having his sight restored, he converted to Christianity and left his Judaism behind, preaching a Torah-free faith to Jew and Gentile alike. Then there’s Paul the Jewish Pharisee, who met the Messiah in a vision and having been blinded and his sight then restored, embarked on a journey to tell the good news of Moshiach to his brothers and sisters as well as the Gentiles, that the Messianic Age was at hand, the pinnacle of the history of the Hebrews was within reach, and even the Gentiles could be redeemed by coming alongside Israel through Messiah.

When Messiah returns, we’ll know, everyone will know. For now, I am a loyal subject of the Jewish King and I await his return. May he come soon and in our day. Amen.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Partisans

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

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

Lancaster’s sermons on Hebrews are always fascinating, but I really think he outdid himself with this one.

His goal for this sermon was to make it all the way through Hebrews 2. Last week we saw how Messiah is higher than the angels, and this week we explore, among other things, how Jesus had to be temporarily made a little lower than the angels, just as the rest of humanity is, in order to be elevated so that all things are put under his feet.

Lancaster cites this chapter as well as portions of 1 Corinthians 15 as something of a midrash on Psalm 8 and 110. In fact, Psalm 8 (I provided the link for your convenience) is a very significant quote used by the writer of Hebrews here:

For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. But one has testified somewhere, saying,

“What is man, that You remember him?
Or the son of man, that You are concerned about him?
“You have made him for a little while lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And have appointed him over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”

For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.

Hebrews 2:5-8 (NASB)

Along with Psalm 110, we see that literally everything has been placed under King Messiah’s control and authority, everything in Heaven, on Earth, and in the age to come. There are no exceptions and further, that Messiah’s Kingship and authority are not to be realized in the future, but they exist in the present (at the time of the writing of Hebrews), that is, right now.

OK. That’s incredibly cool. Jesus is King. I hear that a lot in hymns at church. Problem is, as I look around, I don’t see a world ruled by the Messiah King. I don’t see all of Israel’s enemies defeated, all the Jewish people returned to their Land, a world-wide reign of total peace, a Temple of God in Jerusalem, the Spirit of God poured out on all flesh, or any of the other things the Prophets of old said would accompany the Kingship of Messiah.

So how can everything already be under Messiah’s authority if the Earth is still such an awful mess?

Parable time:

While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. So He said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, after receiving the kingdom…

…But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.”

Luke 19:11-15, 27 (NASB)

You’ll probably want to read all of Luke 19:11-27 to get the full parable, but for the sake of the length of this missive, I quoted only the most relevant portions.

Jesus is speaking a parable about Herod, who escaped ancient Israel after being on the wrong end of a dispute, and ran off to Rome, and then due to circumstances you can learn in Lancaster’s sermon, was made King of Israel. Now he was King and given all authority as such while in Rome, but the people in Israel had no idea and they believed they were subject to their current pretender King.

D. Thomas Lancaster
D. T. Lancaster

Of course, as Lancaster said, Rome would have sent a dispatch ahead of Herod’s return announcing his Kingship and authority, but there would certainly be people who would not want to accept him. If it wouldn’t be more or less suicidal, the rebels could have sent a dispatch back saying, we don’t want to accept him as King. But the parable says that’s what happened.

Now Lancaster says we can apply this parable to Jesus as well. When he ascended, he sat at the right hand of the Father and at that point in time, everything was placed under his authority as King. But, he was (and is) still in a far away place, but he’s returning. It is also true that a “dispatch” has been sent to his Kingdom, that is, the world, saying that Jesus has been made King and that he already has authority, but people have responded that they want the current King and do not want the King who is currently far away and who will return only later (or as many atheists say, a King who does not exist at all).

The population under a not present Herod was divided into those who were loyal to the current King and those who were loyalist to the King who would return.

We are like that, too. Plenty of people, probably most people worldwide, are loyal to the current King of our world, but we who are believers are loyalists to the one we know is truly King and who will one day return.

Lancaster used the metaphor of Robin Hood and his Merry Men who were the Partisans or members of the Resistance movement of their day, working against the current King John but remaining loyal to the true King Richard, who one day would return. Only when King Richard returned would Robin and the loyalists be rewarded. Until that time, they were in constant danger.

And so it is with us. Actually, I was thinking of the Resistance movement in Nazi occupied France during World War 2 who were always in hiding, covertly committing acts of sabotage, struggling to make the way for the Allied invasion, and remaining loyal to the true authority over France. They were physically in a Nazi occupied land, living among them, eating, doing business, interacting with the occupiers, but they did not collaborate and were not of the subjects of the false “King”.

And so it is with us. Lancaster made great points about being slaves to the material world if you are a slave to the current King . But servants of the true King are free of the traps of the material world and fear of death in our loyalty to the King who has authority over Heaven, Earth, and the Messianic Age. Yet the Messianic Age is only a doorway to the furthest extent of Messiah’s Kingdom, the life in the world to come…eternity.

Being a “resistance fighter” is what it is to be a believer. We are loyalists to the coming King. We oppose the current King, who is the master of death, HaSatan, the adversary, “the devil.”

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

Hebrews 2:14-15 (NASB)

deathSome midrashim equate HaSatan with the angel of death and others do not, but according to Lancaster, the writer of Hebrews spoke of the two as the same. If you thought this world was it and there was nothing else, then death is death and when you die, that’s it. Your reward is confined to this world so you might as well “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we all die.” Of course, that doesn’t mean all atheists are totally materialistic or can’t lead moral lives, but they are subjects only of the present world, so this is all they’ve got.

If we aren’t subjects of the King of this world but of the true King who has authority over everything, not just the Earth, and who is promised to return to deliver a Kingdom that is much finer and more just, a Kingdom of absolute peace and knowledge of God, then we don’t have to be afraid of or limited by the threat of death. We don’t accept death. Death is the enemy. Death can be personified. We oppose death.

Lancaster covered the Biblical rationale for why Jesus was made King and exalted over all, and it’s not just because he’s the Son of God and the Divine Logos. Believe it or not, he actually had to do something and he had a choice about whether or not to do it…that is he had to die. You can listen to the recording to get all the details and I highly recommend that you do, for it shows that in his victory over death, by dying for us all, we, as believers, also conquered and more, we became brothers (I’ll say more on that in a moment).

So the two interrelated themes of most of Hebrews 2 as Lancaster sees them, are that we, as believers, are loyalists to the coming true King and not the current pretender on the Throne, and that the defeat of death by Messiah not only was a choice on his part, but granted those of us who are his subjects eternal life. It was that conquest by Messiah that merited him a name above all names and his being granted authority over all things in existence right now, even though we can’t currently see his full control in our present world.

Lancaster delivered a fabulous interpretation of both themes and I strongly recommend that you listen to this sermon to get the full details.

What Did I Learn?

Although Christianity applies everything written in the New Testament as automatically applying to the Church, that is the body of Gentile believers that includes those Jewish people who have converted and assimilated into Gentile Christianity, Lancaster reminds us that the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews was Jewish and he was writing to an entirely Jewish audience.

Men's and women's section at Kotel (Wailing Wall) on Tisha B'Av- mechitza When the writer of Hebrews says Messiah refers to his followers as “brothers” (verse 12) and “children” (verse 13), he was talking about Israel, the Jewish people. There’s no direct connection that says he was applying those words to Gentile believers as well. Lancaster believes this ultimately includes all non-Jewish disciples of the Master as “brothers,” but I don’t think it’s that simple.

John 20:17 is one of the verses that shows Jesus referring to the disciples as “brothers” after his resurrection, so there was something in his death and resurrection that changed his relationship to the Jewish people, something the Jewish believers received as a result of Messiah’s trial in dying. However, Jesus and the writer of Hebrews are talking to Jewish people.

I’ve been having a conversation with a Jewish believer in the discussion thread on another of my blog posts about the role and relationship between believing Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish synagogue context. He believes in distinctiveness in identity, but that Gentiles should have equal access to resources and honors (aliyot, for instance) in the Messianic Jewish community. Others have commented that even if Jews and Gentiles should attend the same Messianic group, it would be justifiable for a separation (something like how men and women are separated in Orthodox synagogues, mirroring the court of the women in Herod’s temple) between Jews and Gentiles to exist.

My view is that Messianic Judaism, like the present and coming Kingdom of God, is a process, not a point event. There is going to be variability between different congregations based on tradition and history, at least until the coming of Messiah, just like there will be a slow revelation of evidence of Messiah’s Kingship, starting in the Gospels and ultimately culminating only with the King’s return.

Some months ago, I read Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi, which I thoroughly enjoyed. At the point when Pi (you’ll have to have read the novel or have seen the film to understand what I’m about to say) realizes he’s sharing a small lifeboat with an adult Bengal Tiger, he realizes how unsafe this is (a huge understatement) and rapidly forms a small, makeshift raft, tying it to the lifeboat, and then launching it behind the larger vessel. This becomes his haven from the Tiger until he eventually learns how to “convince” the Tiger they can co-exist on the lifeboat.

I sometimes see that as the current relationship between Jews and Gentiles within the very specific context of Messianic Judaism. We are struggling with many things as “resistance fighters” in an unholy Kingdom and one of our struggles is how the different populations in the body of Messiah are supposed to interact, especially with the centuries long history of enmity between Jews and Christians. One way is to expect one population to assimilate into the other.

Historically, Gentile Christianity has demanded Jews to assimilate into them as a consequence of worship of the Jewish Messiah. In much more recent times, certain groups organized under “Hebrew Roots” have expected Gentiles to “assimilate” into a quasi-Jewish religious and cultural body (with varying degrees of “Jewishness”) becoming a single identity.

Other more Jewish aspects of Messianic Judaism, in partial reparation for past injuries, require a wholly Jewish environment in which to live and be Messianic Jews. Gentiles are welcome, but with the understanding that they are entering a Jewish environment as Gentiles. No compromises, no assimilation.

Pi on the raft and the Tiger in the lifeboat…for now.

Life of PiThe writer of Hebrews didn’t account for the presence of Gentiles at all in his sermon and we should do the same. But while this sermon clarifies a good many things for us, well “me” anyway, it doesn’t paint a portrait of Jewish/Gentile relationships in Messiah. Israel is Messiah’s brother, and the Jewish people are his children. It is only faith that allows me to take some small comfort that as a Gentile disciple and subject of the Messiah King, for he has dominion over everything including all the Gentile nations, that I may be called a “brother” and “child” too, though not in the same way as Israel, for Messiah is Israel’s first-born from the dead.

Not quite as dramatic or heroic as being a partisan, a resistance fighter, or one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men, but I’ll accept whatever seat at the table I’m offered. As Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) said in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), “At my age, I’m prepared to take a few things on faith.”

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Radiance of Glory

A quick immersion into the Christology of the apostles and the writer of the book of Hebrews based on Hebrews 1:2-3: “… His Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

What role in the creation of all things did the Son play? From where did the apostles derive their high view of Messiah in His divinity?

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Five: Radiance of Glory
Originally presented on January 26, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster starts his message by taking his audience through a brief summary of last week’s sermon focusing on his conclusions. Those conclusions are going to be important in just a few moments, and again at the end of this review.

This week, the topic is Christology or the study of Christ and particularly his Divine nature. This is something not really (or at all) studied in the Church because it’s pretty much assumed (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, three in one). People pray directly to Jesus, people interchange the Father and the Son, even in song lyrics with statements like, “thank you God for dying on the cross for me.” I personally have always been bothered by how most Christians treat the three persons of the Trinity (and remember, the word “Trinity” never shows up in the Bible) as if they’re interchangeable units, like spark plugs or kitchen knives. One’s just as good as the other, one’s exactly the same as the other.

Lots and lots of what Lancaster calls “Father-Son confusion.”

Lancaster manages to compress a lot of complex concepts into his almost forty-four minute sermon which is reflective of how densely packed he says is Hebrews 1:1-4:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.

Remember from last week, Lancaster said the first few sentences in Hebrews 1 were the premise of the writer of Hebrews, and now that writer has to spend the rest of the chapter and into Chapter 2 to support this thesis, that Messiah is higher and more exalted than Abraham, Moses, the Prophets, and even the Angels.

The question of Christology is summarized by Lancaster in a question asked of him by one of his sons:

“How can Jesus be God if he’s the Son of God?”

Oh, is that all?

Lancaster spends the rest of his sermon trying to answer this question and with the goal of being able to read Hebrews, as well as the rest of the apostolic scriptures, with the same understanding as the apostles and early disciples. This has the benefit, from my point of view, of not having to wade through nearly two-thousand years of subsequent anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism, anti-Torah, and anti-Temple theology and doctrine that was spawned from the early centuries of Church history by the so-called “Church fathers” and certainly cemented in place five-hundred years or so ago by the authors of the Reformation (who are by and large the authors of the Christianity we have today).

…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things…

Hebrews 1:2 (NASB)

When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28 (NASB)

Here’s where we start getting into “deep stuff” about Messiah. We’re talking about Fathers and Sons and Sons as heirs and all that’s supposed to mean. We’re also starting to decouple our brains from the literal meaning of these ideas because the world of mysticism speaks in metaphor and in symbols. Literal access to scripture is no help in comprehending the Divine nature of Messiah. To do that, we have to travel much more dangerous roads.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (NASB)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

John 1:1-3 (NASB)

CreationPrepositions play a part in Lancaster’s narrative as he tries to weave together the role of Father and Son in Creation. Was the world created “through,” “by,” “in” the Word, the Son, the Word made flesh? Not very much help, according to Lancaster. It doesn’t sound very Jewish.

Next he takes us into a Rabbinic argument (words are flying past much too quickly for me to pick up all of the references) where the sages are debating on what basis did God create the world.

Was it for the sake of Abraham? No? For the sake of David? For the sake of Moses? No? How about for the sake of Messiah? Saying the world was created for the sake of someone is another way of saying that such a person is highly exalted. For the sake of Messiah was the world created. Don’t worry if these abstract mystical concepts are beginning to give you a headache. They affect me the same way.

Plunging deeper into the wine dark waters of mysticism, the sages teach that God created the world through the agency of wisdom, as if wisdom was a separate being from God, an agent where God was the owner of the plan but giving the plans to wisdom, she (yes, wisdom is a “she”) executed those plans by being the agency of creation.

Proverbs 3:19 and 8:22-23 give us a portrait of wisdom as creator but let’s not be too literal. We are talking about God’s wisdom, and here’s the important part when considering Messiah…wisdom is an attribute which does not encompass the totality of God’s transcendent being, but neither is wisdom not God.

This is wisdom “talking:”

The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old.

Proverbs 8:22 (NASB)

Lancaster links various texts such as the one above with the Targums in terms of “Beresheet” or “In the Beginning,” the creation narrative and the agency of creation. Is it IN the beginning or BY the beginning or something else? Some examples are:

From the beginning with wisdom God created and perfected the heavens and the earth.

Or how about…

In wisdom the Lord created the heavens and the earth.

According to Lancaster, THIS is how the apostles learned the Torah, not how we are taught the Bible in the Church today, and it explains John’s highly mystical introduction to his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and…”

…but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:24 (NASB)

…but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory…

1 Corinthians 2:7 (NASB)

Tree of LifeI realize there’s a lot of connections happening here and again, it’s important to look at all this in a somewhat fluid manner, not trying to understand a literal reality here, since we have definitely crossed over, not really into the Twilight Zone, but into a metaphysical realm where mere human beings, even being apostles, are trying to relate in human language, explaining their Christology to us across the long march of post-apostolic history.

Lancaster takes this even further and references something called “The Wisdom of Solomon” contained in a book called the Catholic Published Bible. “The Wisdom of Solomon” was supposedly written by King Solomon and existed about a century before the earthly ministry of the Master, thus we know the apostles would have had access to this material. I won’t go into everything Lancaster cited, but he did produce a nice, numbered list of attributes of wisdom we can make use of:

  1. Wisdom is the worker of all things.
  2. Wisdom passes through all things holding everything together.
  3. Wisdom is the breath of the power of God.
  4. Wisdom is the expression of God’s Glory.
  5. Wisdom is the brightness of everlasting light.
  6. Wisdom is the image of God’s goodness.
  7. Wisdom makes all things new.

And now back to the text for today:

He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.

Hebrews 1:3 (NASB)

From Lancaster’s perspective, it’s as if the writer of the book of Hebrews is stating that what was said of wisdom is true of the Son — the Divine wisdom is within him.

And if that isn’t enough, how about Paul’s Christology?

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-16 (NASB)

Hopefully you are starting to see the connections. Anti-missionaries jump on the word “image” in terms of the Torah prohibition to not worship an “image,” but again, we’re not talking about a stone statue or a painting and the word “image” isn’t quite literal. Adam was created IN the image of God but the Divine Messiah is THE image of the invisible God. Take the mystic concept of the image of the Heavenly Adam, the Divine Messiah, the agency of creation, God’s powerful Word, and unite it with the earthly Adam, human nature, human beings and we have the person of Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth.

Lancaster quoted someone saying of a Maggid (I didn’t catch the specific reference because I can’t write that fast) that he taught Hassidism as if it were Mussar, that is, he taught mysticism as if it had life applications. Often teachings such as these, while intellectually fascinating (for me, anyway), don’t really do much to change our day-to-day lives, but Lancaster said something that impacted mine. It’s what I learned for today.

Caveat

Before I go on, I must respond to what should be a natural objection of most Christians (and I’ve mentioned this before). Lancaster is crafting the apostolic Jewish understanding of scriptures in general and Hebrews in specific based on Talmud and various mystic writings in Judaism that were authored (for the most part) after the apostolic era, sometimes many centuries after. Is it valid for Lancaster to construct an ancient Jewish perspective of Hebrews and the related Biblical texts based on subsequent Jewish perspectives? That’s the $64,000 question. I think (but this is an assumption on my part), that Lancaster believes the concepts and ideas contained in these later writings, existed in oral form or in some earlier but now lost documents during or before the apostolic era, and thus are valid material to project into an apostolic Jewish framework. If that assumption is wrong, then it’s quite possible some or all of the elements of Lancaster’s premise and thus his conclusions are wrong. But, on the other hand, Christianity bases it’s interpretations of the Biblical texts entirely on material, commentary, and tradition created after the close of Biblical canon, by many hundreds if not thousands of years, so we might as well say that Christian Biblical understanding is just as “anachronistic” as Lancaster’s “Messianic” perspective. Lancaster’s assumptions at least have the benefit of possibly really existing during the time of the apostles. I don’t have the same confidence in the Gentile Church Fathers, those involved with the various Church Councils, the Reformationists of five centuries ago, and the Fundamentalists of a century ago to be able to represent the thoughts, comprehension, and intent of the original apostolic writers of what we now call the New Testament. Now on with the show.

What Did I Learn?

waking-up-happyLancaster said that the only practical application some of these lessons seem to have is only relevant to hating on people who don’t have the same interpretation as we do.

That immediately reminded me of this incident and all of the other similar situations I’ve managed to get myself into. I didn’t create this blog with the idea of tilting at windmills or “going after” people who disagreed with me. I didn’t even create this blog with the idea of having to defend myself from the attacks of people who don’t agree with me. Nevertheless, reading back over the last several blog posts, I seem to be repeatedly taking the adversarial role. It’s a role that’s very seductive and also very undesirable.

Lancaster said that it’s the job of every disciple to internalize the teachings of his or her Master, to eat of the bread, so to speak, and drink of the Spiritual water, to incorporate our Master’s lessons into our very flesh and blood and being. Then, if we consider ourselves a Tabernacle, we bring the Divine wisdom into ourselves and into our families, and into our communities, and finally into the world, which is the lived expression of praying “Thy Kingdom Come!”

Pay attention. To what? The teachings of our Master? Why? Lest we drift away from him.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Solomon’s Porch

At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.

Acts 5:12 (NASB)

Sermon Three: Solomon’s Porch
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

In this third sermon on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship teacher D. Thomas Lancaster expands on why the writer of the Book of Hebrews constructed this word of exhortation to the letter’s recipients and further identifies them as Jewish disciples of Messiah living in or around Jerusalem sometime in the early 60s CE (common era).

Where did the first Christians go to church?

This is how Lancaster started his sermon. He says the question is nonsensical because the first Christians were actually Jews. They didn’t go to church because the modern concept of “church” didn’t exist. Neither did the modern concept of “Christianity.” The first Christians were Jews and they practiced Judaism. As you saw in the quote at the top of the page, the first Jewish believers commonly met in an area on the east side of the Temple called Solomon’s Colonnade.

Lancaster speculates that, because of the prophesy in Zechariah, saying the Messiah would descend upon the Mount of Olives and enter the Temple through the eastern gate, the disciples met there in anticipation, since the Mount of Olives was plainly visible from Solomon’s Colonnade.

Then Lancaster diverted his sermon, taking the audience back in time twenty years or so, recalling a conversation he had with his Father who had been a Baptist minister. Somehow, they got to talking about the Book of Hebrews and his Father, remember, this was twenty years ago, twenty years before Lancaster thought of producing this sermon series on Hebrews, commented on Hebrews 13:22:

But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.

Thirteen chapters is hardly brief and in fact, Hebrews is one of the longest epistles in the New Testament. Lancaster’s father suggested that Hebrews was originally written in two parts: a longer sermon intended to be delivered to a Jewish audience and a shorter letter accompanying the sermon as an explanation.

That’s pretty much was Lancaster suggested in last week’s sermon.

Lancaster’s father said something else rather interesting. He said he thought that Hebrews was written to a group of believing Jews who had been kicked out of the Temple and who didn’t know what to do next. This was a group of Jews who, if they renounced Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah, would be allowed to return to the Temple. Hebrews then, was a letter and a word of consolation to those Jews to not give up their faith but to hold fast to their devotion to Messiah.

Traditional Christian teaching about the Book of Hebrews states that the epistle was a warning to believing Jews to not “backslide” into Judaism and return to Temple worship, so the senior Lancaster’s suggestion was the exact opposite of how most of the Church understands the meaning of Hebrews.

But Lancaster’s Dad’s interpretation has several advantages, according to the younger Lancaster:

    1. It doesn’t anachronistically require a fully-developed Christian identity that is separated from the normative Judaisms of the mid-first century CE.
    2. It doesn’t require that Jesus abolish the Torah or the Levitical system.
    3. It better explains the arguments within Hebrews (which will be covered in subsequent sermons).
    4. It fits much better with what we know about the early Jewish believers and their relationship with the Temple.

The Early Jewish Believers and the Temple

This part of the sermon fits within the realm of established fact as we see in the scriptures and doesn’t require any speculation. It does require setting aside traditional Christian doctrine about the early “Jewish Christians” and taking the scriptural text, primarily in Acts, at face value.

levites-aaronic-blessingWhat was the relationship of the early believing Jews to the Temple? They revered it, just as their Master Jesus revered the Temple.

Lancaster covered those portions of the Gospels that demonstrated Jesus’ devotion to the Temple, his first recorded appearance there as a boy to debate the scholars, evicting the moneychangers, calling the Temple “my Father’s house,” and so on. You can listen to the recording to get the details, including how Jesus, when he returns, will rebuild the Temple and reinstitute the Temple services.

After the ascension, the disciples returned to the Temple. They may have received the Spirit while praying at the Temple (Acts2). Acts 2:46 mentions their presence at the Temple. Acts 3:1-3 speaks of the disciples participating in prayer services at the Temple. And Acts 5:42 asserts that the disciples were in the Temple daily teaching and preaching of the Messiah.

It is strongly believed in normative Christianity that the disciples must have given up the Temple sacrifices since Jesus fulfilled them all, and yet Acts also speaks of many Priests in the Temple coming to faith in Messiah because of the devotion of the disciples. According to Lancaster, these Priests didn’t give up their jobs and stop administering the sacrifices, but rather, found greater meaning in their Priestly duties, seeing Messiah’s blood in each of their services.

In fact, the only occasions on which the disciples were accused of speaking against the Temple, were when they were accused by false witnesses. The trial of Stephen before the Sanhedrin is an example, and Stephen took a full chapter in Acts to deny and refute the false accusations.

Lancaster also points out that the Bible never, ever says that the disciples stopped offering the sacrifices. This would have been a big deal and if it were so, you’d think Luke would have mentioned it. It’s assumed by most Christians that the Jewish disciples stopped offering Temple sacrifices based on doctrines that were much later established by the Christian church, not because it says so in the Bible.

If we look at Acts 24:17 and the surrounding text, we can see how, thirty years later after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Master, Paul was encouraged to offer sacrifices at the Temple to show many other believing Jews that the accusations stating Paul was teaching against Torah and against the Temple were utterly false.

Maybe you can accuse Paul of vainly clinging to obsolete Jewish customs by offering sacrifices but what about James, brother to Jesus, steward of the Throne of David, head of the apostolic community? If anyone should have known the truth about the teachings of Jesus, it should have been James. If Jesus had taught against the Temple and abolished the sacrifices, James should have known about it and advocated for that position. Obviously, he didn’t.

A plain reading of the relevant passages, without being filtered through Christian anti-Torah, anti-Jewish, anti-Temple bias reveals this. Except as viewed through the heavily-colored filter of Christian tradition, there’s nothing in the Bible that says the Torah, including the Temple sacrifices, were ever to be abolished. If you want more information about this, watch the First Fruits of Zion television episode The Torah is Not Canceled. It’s only thirty minutes long and well worth your time.

History records the death of James the Just, the brother of Messiah, the leader of the Council of Apostles and head of the entire body of believers, as happening in 62 CE. Lancaster dates the Book of Hebrews at just a few years later. According to Lancaster, this was also about the time issues came to a head between the disciples in Jerusalem and their arch foes, the Essenes, the group of corrupt Rome-collaborators who illegally had control of the Temple. The Essenes wanted the disciples out of the Temple and wanted them to renounce their faith in Jesus as Messiah.

Speculation

This next part can’t be firmly established through scripture or historical texts and is extrapolated from Lancaster’s understanding of the content in Hebrews. He believes that after the death of James, the Essenes held their own Sanhedrin, leaving out the Pharisees, and forbade the Jewish believers from Temple participation, cutting them off (“Koret”) until such time as they renounced Yeshua.

The Master even predicted this would happen in John 16:2. And this was the purpose of the sermon and letter of Hebrews: to encourage and support the Jewish believers in Jerusalem who had been removed forcefully from Temple participation to keep the faith, keep faith in Yeshua, and not to break faith, even for the sake of returning to the Temple.

MessiahYes, Temple devotion was appropriate and desired. Every year during the pilgrim festivals thousands upon thousands of Jews from all over ancient Palestine and the diaspora nations would converge on Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple in obedience to the commandments.

But devotion to Moshiach and devotion to the Temple were not to be considered mutually exclusive and the writer of Hebrews was earnestly imploring the Jews in Jerusalem to not forsake Messiah in the face of being removed from the Temple.

For even if removed, and even after the Temple was destroyed, it has been promised in Messianic Days that the Temple will be rebuilt and Jews as well as many, many people from all the nations will go up to the Mountain of the Lord and the House of the God of Jacob and worship Him there in Jerusalem.

What Did I Learn?

Well, again, quite a lot. I was wondering how Lancaster was going to firm up his suppositions from last week and I admit he did a pretty good job of it in this sermon. His point kind of wavers when he suggests last week that the disciples were Greek speaking Jews and this week they seemed more likely to be Jews who were native to the Land, but I suppose it could go either way, or even involve a more general population of Jewish believers.

I’m certainly getting a very different picture of the Book of Hebrews than I imagined, and indeed, one more consistent with my understanding of the over all message of the “good news” to the Jewish people.

At the very end of this sermon, Lancaster said he was finally finished setting up the required background and that in next week’s sermon, we’ll begin to actually study the Epistle to the Hebrews. I know that I’ve been turning some of the more difficult passages of this part of scripture over in my head and wondering how they can be seen as consistent with the overarching message Lancaster is presenting. Can all of the book of Hebrews, even the “pesky” parts, really be interpreted as an encouragement for believing Jews in Jerusalem to keep the faith in Messiah, even though denied access to the Temple, which both they and the Master revered? In my next review, we’ll begin to discover the answer.

Edit: Where it says above that the “Essenes” were involved in the death of James and in opposition to the believing Jews in Jerusalem, it should read “Sadducees”.  I apparently misunderstood what was said on the recording and apologize for the error.