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

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

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

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

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

Acts 3:1 (NASB)

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

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

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

Romans 9:3-5 (emph. mine)

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s the answer:

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

Hosea 14:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 13:15 (emph. mine)

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 13:15-16

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

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

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

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

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

What Did I Learn?

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

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

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

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

Acts 10:1-2 (emph. mine)

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Melchizedek

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.

Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest’s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of Him,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 7:1-17 (NASB)

The story of Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek and Hebrews 7:1-17. Was Melchizedek actually a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ in the Old Testament? Who is the mysterious priest and what is his relationship to Yeshua?

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-seven: Melchizedek
Originally presented on October 12, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

We finally exit the elementary principles of the faith and get back into that “meat” the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was talking about. That meat starts with Melchizedek.

Lancaster started out by quoting from Lech Lecha:

When he returned from defeating Chedorlaomer and the kings with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh, which is the Valley of the King. And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him, saying,

“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your foes into your hand.”

And [Abram] gave him a tenth of everything.

Genesis 14:17-20 (JPS Tanakh)

So who was Melchizedek? He’s the King of Righteousness. The King of a place called Salem, which is an ancient name for Jerusalem. He’s also called a King of Peace. Sound familiar?

melchizedekLancaster says (and I’ve heard this before as well) that many people believe that Melchizedek is a “pre-incarnate Jesus”. In other words, Jesus showed up in disguise in the Old Testament to honor Abraham. I’ve always had trouble with this interpretation, as it cheapens the incarnation of Jesus being born of woman (much later in history) by having him just appear and disappear in this sequence of events. Fortunately, Lancaster also has a problem with this. But then what is Melchizedek’s relationship to Jesus?

Here’s one connection (sort of). Lancaster says that Melchizedek shows up bringing bread and wine to give Abraham a banquet foreshadowing the banquet of Abraham in Messianic Days. What banquet you ask?

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…

Matthew 8:11 (NASB)

Oh. That banquet.

So Jesus is supposed to give Abraham a banquet in the Messianic Kingdom? Seems kind of reversed. You’d think Abraham would hold a banquet in honor of King Messiah. On the other hand Abraham did give Melchizedek a tenth of everything after receiving a blessing, but we’ll get back to that.

Lancaster did bring up the midrash in Judaism that suggests Melchizedek was actually Shem, the son of Noah. While this works in terms of the chronology of events, it can’t be true because the writer of Hebrews says that Melchizedek is without genealogy or ancestry, which Shem definitely had.

Lancaster, dispelling the midrash in this case, then quotes the following:

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:19-20 (NASB)

We know about the order of the priesthood of Melchizedek from this:

The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,

“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn,
Your youth are to You as the dew.
The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:1-4 (NASB)

All this seems to indicate that the Priest/King Melchizedek had established a priestly order. What do you have to do to join this order?

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.

Hebrews 7:1-3 (NASB)

the letterLancaster admits that on the surface, this sounds a great deal like Melchizedek could be Jesus. On the other hand, saying he was without father and mother just means that the Torah doesn’t mention them, not that they didn’t exist. Also, it says Melchizedek had no genealogy, but Jesus has a very specific genealogy. He has to in order to qualify as the Messiah King.

Lancaster directs us back to his understanding of why this letter was first authored. The Greek-speaking, Jesus-believing Jews in Jerusalem were going through a crisis of faith. They had been persecuted by the Sadducees who were in control of the Temple. They had been cut off from the Temple, from the sacrifices, and from the (Aaronic) priesthood. And as Lancaster said in past sermons, no one approaches Hashem without a priest.

But the Hebrews writer is saying that they did have a priest, just one of a different order than that of the Aaronic priesthood. But how could that be?

You shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and bind caps on them, and they shall have the priesthood by a perpetual statute.

Exodus 29:9 (NASB)

This is a fancy way of saying that the priesthood descending from Aaron was established forever. It was never-ending. It could not be ended or replaced.

So how could Messiah, of the tribe of Judah and the house of David be a priest?

Because he belonged to a different order of priests. The order of Melchizedek. But is there such an order or was the writer of Hebrews speaking metaphorically?

I asked before, what would you have to do if there were such a priestly order and you wanted to join it? According to Psalm 110:4, you had to be immortal because it says, “a priest forever.” As far as we can tell, Melchizedek was not immortal, even though the Bible never records his death (or birth for that matter).

If Melchizedek was a literal King/Priest of the city of Salem, which at that time a Jesubite city ruled by a Canaanite King, then this couldn’t have been a role that Jesus just “popped in” for and then popped back out again up into Heaven after a brief chat and a nosh with Abraham. He would have had to rule over Salem on a day-to-day basis, being the head of a very real government in a very real city with very real human citizens.

Doesn’t seem likely that this is Jesus.

We do know something about Melchizedek as a priest, though. He blessed Abraham and Abraham paid Melchizedek.

But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

Hebrews 7:7-10 (NASB)

AbrahamIn almost any context, Abraham, having received the promises from God, was the biggest wheel at the table, so to speak. No one was of a higher authority than Abraham relative to the purposes of God. If anything, Abraham should have blessed Melchizedek, since only the greater blesses the lesser, just like fathers bless their children. That Melchizedek, the Priest of the Most High God, blessed Abraham, then he was superior to Abraham. Also, Melchizedek should have given a “tithe” to Abraham if Abraham were truly in the catbird seat.

If, as the above-quoted verses from Hebrews 7 attest, Aaron and his descendants were “still in the loins of” Abraham, it would be as if, in blessing Abraham, Melchizedek were blessing Aaron and his sons, thus establishing that Melchizedek and his priestly order was superior to Aaron and the Levitical priestly order. This is also why Melchizedek would receive a tithe instead of paying one.

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.

Hebrews 7:11-12 (NASB)

This makes it seem as if the Melchizedekian order replaces the Aaronic order of priests, and thus Jesus replaces the Levitical priesthood, the Temple, the sacrifices, and the Torah.

Lancaster says he’ll address all that in a subsequent sermon, but in short, Jesus being in the order of the priesthood of Melchizedek doesn’t replace Aaron’s priesthood (and the sacrifices, the Temple, and the Torah), but he represents a different order that exists in a different venue, the Heavenly Temple Court, while the Aaronic priesthood has authority over the earthly Temple and sacrifices.

As I’ve already mentioned, verse 14 addresses the differences between the ancestry of Melchizedek (whose ancestors are not mentioned) and Jesus (who had a very specific ancestry).

And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of Him,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 7:15-17 (NASB)

Notice this says someone “in the likeness of Melchizedek” and not Melchizedek himself. Also, this order of the priesthood of Melchizedek is not established through a “physical requirement,” that is, who you are descended from, but rather, “according to the power of an indestructible life.” By being the “first fruits of the dead,” (1 Corinthians 15:20), Jesus was the first to have the power of an indestructible life, thus only he was and is qualified to enter into the priestly order of Melchizedek. It comes down to the writer of Hebrews saying that Jesus can be a Priest of a different order than the Aaronic priesthood because Melchizedek had previously been accepted as a Priest of Hashem and was not a descendant of Aaron.

All this I more or less knew, though Lancaster nicely filled in some of my information gaps…

…but…

What Did I Learn?

Take silver and gold, make an ornate crown and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’ (emph. mine)

Zechariah 6:11-13 (NASB)

Compare this to the following:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land. (emph. mine)

Jeremiah 23:5 (NASB)

LevitesBoth of these are Messianic prophesies. The passage from Zechariah describes the Israelites returning to their Land after the Babylonian exile. The Temple was in ruins. Prophesy said the Messiah should have arrived at that point, rebuilt the Temple and restored Israel. Where was he?

According to Lancaster, Zechariah’s answer was to prophesy that a (righteous) Branch would come to rebuild the Temple. Then the prophet commanded that a crown be made and placed on the head of Joshua the High Priest, and that he would represent the Branch who would one day come to rebuild the Temple and to sit on the King’s Throne, and that the Branch would also be a Priest, and that he would bring peace between the office of the priesthood and the office of the King.

The kicker is that the High Priest’s name is “Joshua”, which is “Yehoshua” in Hebrew (transliterated), but the Jews coming out of Babylon were speaking Aramaic, not Hebrew. They would have pronounced his name “Yeshua,” which we translate into English as “Jesus.”

The writer of the Book of Hebrews is trying to encourage his readers by saying they really do have a High Priest, one who is in Heaven, even though they are cut off from the earthly High Priest. Based on the precedents set in Psalm 110 and Genesis 14, that High Priest is King Messiah, who like Melchizedek, is both a King and a Priest, which was also prophesied by Zechariah.

This was good news for the Jesus-believing Jews reading this letter, but it’s also good news for us. Even though Kohens are identifiable today, there is no Temple in which they can offer sacrifices. Yet no man comes to God without a priest. But we, like the readers of the Hebrews letter, do have a High Priest, one who brings us near to God. we have Yeshua, we have Jesus, who is both King and Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Messiah Psalm

Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted text in the New Testament. Why? And what did Yeshua mean when he quoted it to challenge the concept of a Davidic Messiah?

Listen to a study of Hebrews 4:14-5:6 which unwraps Psalm 110 and introduces the priesthood of Messiah. “The Messiah Psalm” offers discussion about the Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110 as it appears in the teaching of Yeshua (Mark 12) and the Epistle of Hebrews.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirteen: The Messiah Psalm
Originally presented on April 13, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him,

“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You”;
just as He says also in another passage,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 4:14-5:6 (NASB)

Lancaster teaches some really interesting things in this session, but we have to get there first.

As he often does, Lancaster begins by recapping his previous sermon, in this case by reminding us that we need a priest to approach God, to approach paradise, because we have big angels and a flaming sword keeping us out.

Lancaster also reminds us of who the original readership of the writer of the Hebrews epistle was, and it sure wasn’t us, that is, twenty-first century (Gentile) Christians. The original audience, from Lancaster’s point of view, were first century Hellenistic Jews living in Judea. They had just suffered the martyrdom of James the Just, brother of the Master, the head of the Apostolic Council, along with other important leaders, and they had either just been denied access to the Temple and Priesthood or they were about to be denied. The Sadducees, who controlled access to the Temple, never got along with the Master Yeshua (Jesus) because they deny the resurrection and the existence of the divine soul, both of which the Master taught.

PriestsFrom a Christian’s point of view, it’s very important to realize that the Jewish disciples of the Master did not have a problem with the Temple or the Priesthood at all. They only had a problem with the corruption of the Sadducees who at that point in history controlled access to the Priesthood and the Temple sacrifices. Most Christians read Hebrews as the anti-Levitical Priesthood and anti-Temple book in the Bible, so it’s important to point out these distinctions.

In the next part of the sermon, Lancaster takes us on a small but important detour away from Hebrews and into the Gospel of Mark:

They came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him, and began saying to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?”

Mark 11:27-28 (NASB)

Lancaster says that Yeshua evaded the question for about a chapter and then got down to the heart of the matter.

By chapter 12, verse 34, Jesus had so deftly responded to all of his challengers that no one dared to ask him anymore questions. Then Jesus had a question of his own:

And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ [Messiah] is the son of David?”

Mark 12:35 (NASB)

This is one of those questions that if we don’t consider the context of what was going on and we don’t apprehend the query in the manner of a first-century Jew, we’ll completely miss the meaning. Asking if the Messiah is the Son of David is like asking if the Pope is Catholic. Of course, he is! It’s incredibly obvious. So why did Jesus ask this question?

David himself said in the Holy Spirit,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet.”’

David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; so in what sense is He his son?” And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.

Mark 12:36-37 (NASB)

Jesus quotes from Psalm 110. It was common for him to refer to older scriptures, so on the surface, this doesn’t seem unusual. It was common for Paul and the other apostles to quote from previous scriptures, so again, it doesn’t seem to be an unusual event.

King DavidBut of all the Old Testament scriptures quoted in the New Testament, Psalm 110 is the one quoted most often, being cited a total of fifteen times, with nine of those mentions in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The apostles related to Psalm 110 as one of these most noteworthy Messianic prophesies (with Psalm 2 being the other). What was Jesus, and later the writer to the Hebrews, trying to say that we miss, especially in English?

Lancaster tells us that English language Bibles render Psalm 110 poorly because they generally translate the words “my Master” and “Hashem” both as “Lord”. This gives the impression that God is talking to Himself.

Lancaster reads the ESV translation of Psalm 110 but with some slight differences that render it more comprehensible. I’ll reproduce it here with those differences formatted in bold and underlined text.

Hashem says to my Master:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Hashem sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
Hashem has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Master is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

Psalm 110

The craziness of this Psalm is that David, under inspiration from the Holy Spirit, referred to his descendent, his “son” as it were, as his “Master.” No son is Master of his father. This was Yeshua’s point. The Messiah was surely the Son of David but Psalm 110 also understands that Messiah is more than the Son of David. If Messiah was only the Son of David, he would be seated at David’s right hand.

Licht senderSince Messiah is seated at God’s right hand, whose son does that make him (hint, hint)?

Lancaster read from a collection of traditional Jewish midrash which incredibly, has Abraham also asking why Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham ultimately, is seated at God’s right hand.

The Even Zohar, Rabbi Yeshiel Tzvi Lichtenstein in his commentary on Mark 12:25 states that Messiah was indeed the Son of David in the flesh and the Son of God in the Spirit.

Yeshua was confirming that he was the Messiah, Son of David and Son of God. Lancaster says it was Yeshua’s interpretation of Psalm 110 that resulted in his execution.

Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.

Mark 14:61-64 (NASB)

If the high priest had just asked “are you the Messiah” and Jesus had said “yes,” maybe he could have been wrong but it wouldn’t be blasphemy. But the high priest asked if Jesus was Messiah and Son of God, and Jesus answered yes. That’s what caused the high priest to condemn Jesus to death.

Now back to Hebrews 4 and our need for a high priest.

Lancaster spent a fair amount of time stating that Jesus had to be fully a human being, not just God or an angel masquerading as a human being. When Jesus was tempted, it had to be completely possible for him to give in to temptation and sin. It’s not temptation if there isn’t a real risk of sinning and if it was actually impossible for Jesus to sin, then he wasn’t really tempted, and therefore, he wasn’t really human. It had to be very possible for Jesus to sin, just like the rest of us. The only difference is that unlike the rest of us, Jesus passed every test and never, ever sinned.

This is where I got stuck last week, since it seems like someone who passed every test still wouldn’t be able to empathize with all of humanity because only he passed all the tests. The rest of us fail.

The High PriestBut in his sermon, as Lancaster entered Hebrews 5, he said this was a very important point. When the writer of Hebrews describes the high priest in verses 1 and 2, he’s not thinking of the then corrupt Sadduceeian high priest, but the ideal among high priests, Aaron. Ironically, one of Aaron’s highest qualifications, according to Lancaster, for the high priesthood was his sin in the incident of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32). It was because Aaron sinned that he could empathize with the weakness of the Israelites and have compassion as he atoned for their sins.

But this presents a problem, at least in an eternal sense.

…he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.

Hebrews 5:2-3 (NASB)

Aaron, or the idealized high priest, could “deal gently with the ignorant and misguided” but on the other hand, he still had to offer sacrifices for himself because he too sinned.

While Aaron was the greatest and most noble of the high priests, there was still one who had better qualifications, one who could also empathize and “deal gently with the ignorant and misguided” but ”One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Verse 5 quotes from Psalm 110 and verse 6 is the writer’s proof text:

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Lancaster leaves us hanging at the meaning of “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” so I suppose we’ll have to wait until next week to get into what all that’s about.

What Did I Learn?

I liked the “straightening out” of Psalm 110 so that it becomes easier to tell “who’s who” in the text. Also, I found the emphasis of Lancaster (and the writer of Hebrews) on the humanity of Jesus compelling. I’ve heard Christians refer to Jesus again and again as a “man-god,” which makes him sound like something out of a science fiction or fantasy novel rather than who he was and is. It’s fascinating to consider Jesus, our high priest in the Heavenly Court, as fully a human being and out of that sinless humanity, he is able to empathize with flawed and failing people in his being the atonement for our sins. I still struggle with how one who has never failed, as Aaron failed, could ever really feel empathy and completely understand, not only real temptation and the risk of failure, which Jesus did experience, but also how we actually, miserably fail, which Jesus never experienced.

The Death of the MasterIf Jesus had failed, he’d understand us better, but if he failed, he would have been disqualified and never would have ascended to be seated at Hashem’s right hand as our Master.

I can imagine this interpretation presenting some difficulties for many Christians relative to the traditional understanding of the “Godhead” and Trinitarian doctrine. I don’t think Lancaster is challenging this necessarily, but he is forcing us (me, anyway) to view the nature and character of Messiah differently. He was, and arguably still is, fully and completely human and the Son of David according to the flesh, but also fully and completely the Son of God according to the Spirit. How this works, I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone really knows, although there are plenty of opinions to go around, including the denial of the Master’s divine nature completely.

I can only imagine that Lancaster in his analysis of the Book of Hebrews, may have taken this one on as his sermon series progressed. Right now, at the end of sermon thirteen, we’re hanging at the priesthood of Melchizedek. Next week, Hashem be willing, we’ll learn more.

What I Learned in Church Today: Fellowship

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Ephesians 1:13-14 (NASB)

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—-and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—-what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

1 John 1:1-3 (NASB)

As I write this, it is Sunday afternoon. Pastor Dave gave a sermon on Christian fellowship based on 1 John 1 and 2 (Pastor Randy had been out-of-town all week at a conference and wasn’t able to prepare a sermon for today). Pastor Dave doesn’t give sermons very often but I think he did a really good job at this one. I found that he was touching on many Jewish concepts, probably without realizing it. He spoke of walking in darkness or light 1 John 1:6-7 which I associated with halachah or the way to properly “walk” in lived obedience to God. He also talked about how God as light doesn’t mean like a light bulb, but as something that reveals what was once hidden, which brought me back to D. Thomas Lancaster’s commentary on Purim, which I reviewed yesterday.

Further, he talked about how Christian fellowship should be more than just liking each other and getting along. It should be more than just getting together over football and beer (my words, not Dave’s). It should be fellowship surrounding a core of our common faith and identity as Christians. That, to me, is really Jewish:

Rabbi Shimon would say: Three who eat at one table and do not speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten of idolatrous sacrifices; as is stated, “Indeed, all tables are filled with vomit and filth, devoid of the Omnipresent” (Isaiah 28:8). But three who eat at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten at G-d’s table, as is stated, “And he said to me: This is the table that is before G-d” (Ezekiel 41:22).

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) 3:3

But he also spoke of the heart and from the heart about fellowship. Just being in church with fellow believers doesn’t mean you have fellowship or at least, it doesn’t mean that you’ll always feel like you have fellowship.

Man aloneThat point really spoke to me because I don’t have a lot of what I consider true fellowship in church…and it’s probably my fault.

Everyone is friendly and approachable, but I know if I let myself off my chain and really start talking about what I think and believe relative to the Bible, a lot of those people won’t want fellowship with me, or they will think I’m deluded or a heretic or something that would make fellowship impossible. He even said the very words I sometimes think:

“I don’t have any real friends at church.”

That’s not exactly true. I do have one, Pastor Randy. I’m friendly with many others, but outside of Sunday services, for the most part, we never see each other. If I had left church after the sermon, I probably would have been depressed.

But I went to Sunday school where, for this week, we departed from studying Acts and focused on Ephesians 1. I recently learned that if I have any serious questions about the lesson, mentioning them to the teacher before class begins is really helpful. He has more time to respond and I don’t think he feels so much “under the gun” since it’s just him and me.

I was having a tough time with his notes trying to figure out what his point was. It wasn’t until he started class that I realized it had a lot to do with what I’m learning from D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews and especially a concept I’m going to explore in tomorrow’s review. How Jesus could have all authority over literally everything granted to him at the ascension when he sat down at the right hand of the Father, and yet we barely see a glimmer of that reality in the day-to-day world around us.

His lesson worked over various bits and verses of scripture, but I was taking the entire chapter and to some degree the entire letter as a single unit, trying to summarize in my head why Paul even wrote the epistle and what his overarching message might be to Ephesus.

How can we have all spiritual blessings now and have authority to rule with Jesus and at the same time be mere mortal creatures struggling just to survive and discover some sort of meaning for our existence here and now?

Adult Sunday SchoolAnd then, when one of the people in class asked me a question in response to something I’d said, the answer hit me, but visually. I quickly asked permission to use the whiteboard, hopped up, and drawing a few pictures, gave a sixty second lesson on God’s perspective vs. ours and how I saw Ephesians 1 being some sort of bridge between the two.

I think I made the teacher nervous for a moment because he asked how long I was going to take. I told him “less than a minute,” which calmed him down, and afterward, he jokingly said that he might have to put me to work doing some teaching.

I know he was kidding and I also know that Pastor Randy would never sanction me to do any teaching in the church, since he knows what we agree and especially what we disagree on, but it felt good to “teach” again, even if it was just for a few seconds. I also felt that momentarily, I was part of the flow of transaction in the class. After class ended, I stopped to talk with the teacher and another fellow for about fifteen minutes, including sharing just a little about how “Jewish” some of the concepts Pastor Dave presented in his sermon. Every once in a while, I get the opportunity to drop a little pebble in the pond with the hope that the ripples it makes will be productive.

As I was leaving, I was able to chat with Pastor Randy for a bit, mainly over further suggestions I have for the church’s website (which I built to replace their previous and archaic web presence). He had to rush off to a Deacon’s meeting, but as I left church today, I felt a little lighter, a little brighter than on other such occasions.

I have to admit that I’ve been afraid of fellowship at the church, of becoming really involved, because of what I thought the impact would be on me and particularly how my wife would see it, not that she’d complain. Naturally, I have no problem at all with her involvement with our local Jewish community and it’s right for her, as a Jew, to be involved with other Jews. But letting the door swing both ways, I worry that she’ll be put off by being Jewish and yet having not only a husband who’s a Goy, but a Christian…one of those.

If I invest in fellowship in the church, what does it do to my wife’s feelings? We live in a fairly small community. Word gets around. How many of her Jewish friends already know I go to a church and what do they think? Not that I’m overly concerned about what people think, but I am concerned about how who I am affects her relationship with other Jewish people, especially if that affect is “damaging” in some way.

But if I don’t invest in fellowship in the church, then what am I doing at church? How will I be able to make a significant and positive contribution if I don’t develop relationships and interactions that go beyond merely attending services and Sunday school? Pastor Dave called fellowship vital not optional.

He also asked a funny question that has a serious answer, which is at the heart of my fears. Apparently Pastor Dave is a naturally friendly guy and he can’t imagine not getting along with someone or someone not getting along with him. He asked why we sometimes fail to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in our relationships at church. The following quote, I have no idea where it came from originally, popped into my head:

The church is the only army that shoots its own wounded.

In spite of Stephen McAlpine’s rebuttal, there are plenty of people who can say they’ve been “burned” by church. Given my own theological bent, I can expect to be rejected if I dropped too much information to too many people about my understanding of the Bible vs. what is typically taught by Evangelicals.

Good SamaritanBut there’s another answer I could give to Pastor Dave, and it’s another cliché of a sort, but I think it’s a useful one. Sometimes atheists will say that “religion is just a crutch” to which the cliché response is “but everyone is limping, or beaten, or bleeding.”

But it’s not religion that’s a crutch in the functional sense, but fellowship. One of the functions of fellowship, of friendship, of family, is when you’ve been knocked to the ground, and you’re having trouble getting back up, someone is there to help you. Fellowship in Christ is walking the path the Master set before us when he said this:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35 (NASB)

So fellowship in Christ not only helps us support one another when we are “limping,” but it is a direct public witness that we are Christians obeying the command of our Master by being loving.

It’s risky. Any participation in a community of people is risky. But Christian fellowship is supposed to be worth a few risks and may be the only way, or one of the only ways to encounter God as part of the body of Messiah.

Joseph was a stranger in a strange land, even as he held royal power and authority in Egypt. Moses was raised in Egypt and was a stranger in Midian, where he found a wife and raised two sons. The Torah admonishes the Israelites in how they treat strangers because they too were once strangers and aliens in Egypt.

In many ways, I’m also a stranger in a strange land, a Christian who doesn’t fit very well into a Christian church, someone who finds Adon Olam in a siddur more familiar than anything in a hymnal.

But it’s my fault. If I am to accept the challenge of fellowship, then I have to take risks, well, more risks than I’ve already taken. I just don’t know where the path will lead, the price not only I, but my family will have to pay, and how to do my best to not hurt anyone and to avoid the obvious trapdoors and pitfalls involved in “mixing” theologies, relationships, and identities.

What I learned in church today.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Spoken by Angels

The writer of the book of Hebrews indicates that the Torah was “spoken by angels.” In this teaching, D. Thomas Lancaster takes a look at first-century angelology to understand the apostolic concept of the Torah being delivered by angels and what role that concept plays in the argument in Hebrews 2.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Seven: Spoken by Angels
Originally presented on February 9, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

In last week’s sermon which I reviewed, we learned that Yeshua (Jesus) was greater than even the angels. What we didn’t learn is why that was important to the addressees of the letter to the Hebrews and why that should be important to us.

Today, we’re going to find out.

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

Hebrews 2:1-4 (NASB)

Here, we see another Kal va-chomer argument, from the light to the heavy. Look at this.

For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

In other words, if the word spoken by angels…what word is that? The Torah which was delivered by angels at Sinai. If the Torah proved “unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience (of Torah) received just penalty, then how” must less “will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”

This is the cornerstone of Lancaster’s sermon and we need to pay attention. I said in my first review of this series about the Kal Va-chomer argument, that if the first and lighter portion of the argument was not valid, then neither is the second, and the entire argument disintegrates.

The first part of the argument states that the Torah is “unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty.” In other words, the writer of Hebrews is telling his Jewish audience that the Torah remains valid and unalterable in their lives. The Jewish audience must have continued to be Torah observant Jews who did not question the validity of Torah. After all, if they considered the Torah alterable or invalid or obsolete as most Christians believe the writer of Hebrews is saying, then according to the argument, the heavier aspect of the statement must also be invalid or obsolete: Jesus and salvation. That doesn’t make much sense.

TorahPut in just a slightly different way, if the Torah remains valid and unalterable, how much more is the salvation of Jesus valid and unalterable. The second element in the argument does not undo or invalidate the first but rather rests upon and depends on the first element. If it doesn’t, the argument falls apart.

Christianity’s understanding of the purpose of the Book of Hebrews in general and this portion of the epistle in specific is what becomes invalid based on what the text is actually saying!

However, as Lancaster solves one problem, he introduces another.

For if the word spoken through angels…

Hebrews 2:2 (NASB)

Not only in this verse, but Acts 7:53, the words spoken by Stephen, and Galatians 3:19, which was written by Paul, both speak of the Torah being delivered by angels.

But wasn’t the Torah spoken directly by God to Moses?

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘You yourselves have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven.’

Exodus 20:22 (NASB)

This is just one of a multitude of examples of God (seemingly) speaking directly to Moses words of Torah rather than having Torah delivered by angels. In fact, where do we ever see angels delivering words of Torah or tablets of Torah to Moses? Apparently no where.

Lancaster goes through a list of the various types of angelic beings, which aren’t important to present here, but he does mention one particular type of angel we need to pay attention to: the angel of the Lord.

In Genesis 18 we see three men visit Abraham at his camp. We know that these three men are really three angels. Two of them go on to Sodom but one stays behind and this is God. But how can it be God if God is infinite and a consuming fire? Just look at what He did to the top of Mount Sinai! Who or what is the angel of the Lord?

According to Lancaster, this is an angel, a created being, through which God speaks. The angel speaks the Words of God in the first person singular as God Himself, but is not God Himself, but rather a representation or extension of God, as if God were talking into a microphone and the angel were a speaker on the other end of a cable.

“Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him. (emph. mine)

Exodus 23:20-21 (NASB)

In other words, when Jacob wrestles with an opponent in Genesis 32, we don’t have to drive ourselves crazy wondering if it is an angel or if it is literally God. Lancaster says, it’s the angel of the Lord, God’s created representation in our world.

And it is not and never has been a “pre-incarnate Jesus.”

WrestlingActually I find that a relief. I always suspected that at least some angels had such a function rather than an infinite, all-powerful, all-encompassing God literally intersecting with our world, He would send a representative being, like an amplified ambassador able to speak as if he were God present among us. It also is a nice response to certain Hebrew Roots commentators who turn exegesis in the Tanakh into “I-see-Jesus” whenever the angel of the Lord appears.

Lancaster provides numerous other proof texts to support his commentary, and you can listen to the full recording to get all of his references.

I will say that Lancaster also mentions that the concept of the angels giving the Torah was very popular in the first century, as evidenced by how well read the Book of Jubilees, which supported the angelic giving of Torah, was among Jews of that period.

All this may sound strange and even alien to us, but Lancaster says it made perfect sense to a first-century Greek-speaking Jewish audience. We can’t judge these things by the context of 21st-century English-speaking Christians living in the United States of America. We have to get into the heads and comprehension of the original audience. Otherwise, we’ll come up with some pretty goofy conclusions.

But what does this have to do with the Messiah being superior to the angels? It seems applied to our Kal va-chomer argument. If Messiah is superior to the angels and the angels gave the Torah, then what the Messiah gives must be superior as well. No, I didn’t say what the Messiah gave replaced the Torah, just that it held much more weight, and to extend the metaphor, the message of Messiah rests on the foundation of the Torah.

Think of it this way.

At Sinai, Moses went up the mountain. He acquired the Torah in the realm of angels, descended and gave the Torah to human beings.

Messiah went up into the Heavenly Court, the realm of angels, at the ascension. When he descends, he delivers the Messianic Era of peace and complete knowledge of God to human beings.

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 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 31:31-34 (NASB)

Lancaster didn’t use this scripture in his sermon but I think it makes sense. The New Covenant doesn’t undo any of the older covenants or “unwrite” any of the specific content. It actually amplifies the older covenants, reaffirms them, and makes it more possible for Judah and Israel (and the people of the nations who are grafted in through faith in Messiah) to “know God” in a more fulfilling way than even the great prophets knew God, and the law, the Torah will be written on all their hearts.

Lion of JudahThat’s the Messianic Era. We have just barely tasted the first fruits of that New Covenant. Most of those promises have yet to be fulfilled. Messiah’s work is not finished, otherwise why return and why is the gospel message all about the coming of the Kingdom rather than just a plan of personal, individual salvation for specific human beings?

The New Covenant is wholly dependent upon the older covenants. If any of the older covenants cease to exist, the fabric of the New Covenant unravels and falls to dust and Judah, Israel, and the people of the nations who cleave to the God of Israel have no hope.

But if the Torah is true and valid and reliable, how much more true and valid and reliable are the Messianic promises and the coming of Moshiach?

What Did I Learn?

I did hit something of a wall or contradiction. Probably just a misunderstanding on my part (and I’ve made mistakes before in this review series). If the argument is that Messiah is greater than the angels who delivered the Torah, but was specifically the angel of the Lord, God’s personal angelic representation, if you will, who delivered the Torah to Moses, then does that mean the Messiah is greater than the angel of the Lord?

I don’t know if the question even makes sense, depending on how you view Trinitarianism, but it’s what popped into my head as I was listening to the sermon, so I thought I’d share it with you.

I didn’t read through each and every transaction Moses had with Hashem in the Torah, but I suspect that we may encounter some difficulties in determining on some occasions exactly who is addressing Moses. Is it the angel of the Lord, or the Lord? Does God never speak directly to Moses? Is it always an angel? I don’t know. The suggestion offered by Lancaster seem to bear further scrutiny, however.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Sundry Times and Divers Manners

Our fourth teaching on the book of Hebrews considers the first two verses of the epistle:

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

How does Yeshua and the message of Messiah stack up against the patriarchs and the prophets?

The thesis statement behind the book of Hebrews with reference to Yalkut Shimoni and Midrash Tanchuma on Isaiah 52:13.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Four: Sundry Times and Divers Manners
Originally presented on January 19, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

After my significant goof up in my review of last week’s session, I’m a little hesitant to write another review, but hopefully, I’ll be more mindful of my notes if not my memory.

Today’s the day. It’s the day Lancaster actually starts delving into the book of Hebrews, well the first couple of verses in the first chapter, anyway. However, there’s a lot to cover in this thirty-five minute sermon. Let’s get going.

The first thing a traditional Christian Bible student should know is that Lancaster thinks the Book of Hebrews reads like Midrash Rabbah, other Talmudic portions, and even the Zohar. That’s because the sermon/letter seems so Jewish. That isn’t going to make a lot of Christians happy because they (we) have been taught some pretty negative things about Talmud and especially about Zohar (most Christians have probably heard of the Talmud but how many teachers and Pastors even breathe the word “Zohar”?).

Lancaster says he feels pretty comfortable with Talmudic literature, at least in English, but he rather feels sorry for the innocent and unsuspecting Christian Bible student who stumbles into Hebrews without that background. The implication is that without familiarity with Rabbinic commentary, most Christians are going to come away from Hebrews with an inaccurate interpretation of what the anonymous author was trying to say.

Lancaster says the experience of an uninitiated Christian facing Talmudic writings encounters the intellectual and perhaps spiritual equivalent of stepping on a rake. I assume he means the “business end” of the rake and not the handle.

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.

Hebrews 1:1-2 (NASB)

What does this mean?

It’s actually pretty straightforward. In ancient days, God spoke to “the fathers in the prophets”. Who are they? Prophets include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and especially Moses. They also include anyone of the Judges as well as prophets like Samuel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and any of the so-called “minor prophets” who, in Hebrew Bibles, are called the “later prophets.” No prophet of God is “minor.”

We also see prophetic words from God in the writings such as the Psalms and Proverbs, so God spoke to all of the writers of all of the books of what Christians refer to as the “Old Testament” and what Jews call the Tanakh (Torah or Law, Nevu’im or Prophets, and Ketuvim or Writings).

We call all of this put together the “Old Testament,” but for Jews in the Apostolic Era, it was just The Testament or The Scriptures.

Verse one testifies that God inspired all of the writers of all of those writings speaking through them and to them. These were the men of God of the past and God spoke to ALL of them. Thus, what they wrote is ALL the Word of God. God spoke in many diverse ways to the prophets:

He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream.

“Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; With him I speak mouth to mouth…”

Numbers 12:6-8 (NASB)

God spoke through the other prophets in many and different ways but only with Moses did God speak “face-to-face” (lit. mouth-to-mouth). The message of the prophets was to all of Israel and ultimately, to all the world.

However in the last days, God spoke through His Son.

What last days? While the apostles and early disciples may have thought they were living in the last days, they must have been wrong, because almost two-thousand years have passed and the “days” haven’t ended yet.

But were they wrong? They were living in the last days of the Apostolic Era. They were living in the last days of the Holy Temple. They were living in the last days of Jerusalem, the last days before the Jewish people would be exiled from their Land to wander the diaspora for nearly twenty desperate centuries.

Thy Kingdom ComeThe First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television show A Promise of What is to Come produced a number of episodes describing how the coming of the Messianic Kingdom was upon us and that time wasn’t the relevant factor in summoning the Kingdom. Episodes such as Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, and Keys to the Kingdom all speak of this.

Lancaster characterized the imminent coming of the Kingdom as a clock that is stuck at one minute to midnight, sort of how the Doomsday Clock is used to show the imminence of Nuclear War.

The men and women of the Apostolic Era were living in the “end times” no more or less than we. The stage has been set, the actors have taken their places, now all that is left is for the curtain to go up, the house lights to go down, and for the play to begin. However, the audience and the actors haven’t been told exactly when the curtain will rise and to a large degree it is they who will determine the moment, not the director.

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.

Luke 21:32 (NASB)

But this interpretation makes me consider that “this generation” isn’t meant to be taken literally.

…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.

Hebrews 1:2 (NASB)

This speaks more than I could have possibly known before hearing this sermon.

Lancaster invoked my English 101 class which I took the first time I attended university. In an English Composition class, you’re taught to begin a paper with a thesis statement, a declaration of the topic and purpose of the paper, then you spend the rest of the time writing documentation supporting your thesis.

That’s how Hebrews begins.

Lancaster took a moment to explain that the New Testament is NOT just commentary on the Torah, which may come as a surprise to some Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots people who have been taught to focus on the Torah and almost nothing else.

The thesis of the writer of Hebrews is that in ancient days, God spoke through and to the Prophets of old and what they spoke and wrote was and is the Word of God. But in the End Times, God spoke through his Son, Moshiach, and what Moshiach spoke is recorded in the Gospels.

We take all this for granted as Christians in the twenty-first century. After all, we have our Bibles, they include the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the New Testament includes the Gospels, so of course what Jesus said was and is the Word of God, but that was a revolutionary concept in the early 60s CE. The Jewish believers as well as all other Jewish people understood that the Hebrew Scriptures were the Word of God, but could Jesus of Nazareth also speak God’s Word (not to mention his apostles, but we won’t address that today)?

Was/is Jesus greater than the Prophets? The answer is of course, “yes,” but what did the original readers of Hebrews believe? Was Jesus greater and better than angels (see Hebrews 1:4)?

The writer of Hebrews had to establish this as his thesis and then spend the rest of the sermon/letter defending and supporting that thesis.

Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.

Isaiah 52:13 (NASB)

Delitzsch BibleThis is the beginning of the Song of the Exalted Servant. Traditional, normative Judaism considers the Exalted or Suffering Servant to be the people and nation of Israel, while Christians believe it is Messiah, it’s Jesus.

Lancaster began to establish that the Servant must be Messiah based on a variety of Jewish sources, such as Targum Jonathan and too many others for me to write down and thus record here. He mentioned again that the Zohar is one of those sources, but it should be noted that most if not all of the supportive Jewish writings were authored well after the Apostolic Era.

Lancaster wants to show his audience that his interpretation is correct but that it must be understood and supported by Jewish sources. The question, and it’s an important one, is if the audience of the sermon/letter to the Hebrews would have understood this document through the Jewish documentation and commentary they had access to in or around the year 62 CE.

The most reliable estimates regarding the Zohar say it was written in about the 12th century and the Talmud wasn’t authored for centuries after the apostles died. We can accept some of Lancaster’s argument if we believe the information later recorded in Rabbinic writings already existed, probably in oral form, during Apostolic days. But for many Christians, that’s quite a leap.

What Lancaster is trying to establish is that the writer of Hebrews was declaring, and again, this would be controversial and even revolutionary in the mid-first century, that Yeshua of Nazareth was not only equal to the Prophets and Judges and even Angels, but that he was superior to them all as Messiah and as the Son of God. The audience of Hebrews was to understand that the words of Jesus were indeed also the Word of God, which Christians accept today without question but the original readers of Hebrews still needed to comprehend.

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…

Hebrews 1:3 (NASB)

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.

Hebrews 3:3 (NASB)

Jesus is worthy. He sits at the right hand of the Father. He is the radiance of God’s glory, an exact representation of God’s nature. Messiah upholds all things by his word, which is the Word of God because Messiah is greater, more glorious, more worthy than any of the prophets, including Moses and even more so than the Angels.

Now here’s the important part for today.

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.

Hebrews 2:1 (NASB)

Read the entire first chapter of Hebrews and then read the first verse of the second chapter. What were the readers of this sermon/letter (and what are we) supposed to pay much closer attention to?” The Word of God as spoken by Messiah. Why? So they wouldn’t drift away.

life_of_pi_by_megatruh-d5noigdRemember, that according to previous sermons, the writer of the Book of Hebrews was deeply concerned that his audience, because they were denied access to the Temple in Jerusalem, were tempted to “drift away” from their faith in Messiah, all for love of and devotion to Temple worship.

Christians believe that Hebrews was a warning to Jews not to abandon Jesus and “backslide” into Jewish practices including the Temple sacrifices, but according to Lancaster, it was a warning to not forget priorities.

Lancaster used a number of metaphors to get his point across but I’ll choose just one. How many couples do you know have gotten a divorce? Maybe you are divorced. Maybe you have friends who are, or maybe your parents are.

Sometimes, when describing the process that lead up to divorcing, men and women will say that they drifted away from each other over time. This rather contradicts a sudden trauma such as being abruptly denied access to Temple worship and suggests a gradual cooling of faith.

Faith and devotion to the Master are there, but for a variety of reasons, they can begin to become less important over weeks, months, and even years. Christians are taught in Church that only one thing matters: Jesus. It’s pretty easy to lock onto Jesus and not let go because he is all anyone ever talks about.

But the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movement are sometimes so devoted to Torah, to Talmud, to Shabbat, to a thousand other things, that Jesus gets lost in the shuffle. I think that’s why some Gentile Messianic believers convert to normative Judaism, usually Orthodox, because the things of Judaism become more attractive and they slowly drift away from Yeshua.

Hebrew Roots people accuse Messianic Jewish adherents of promoting this kind of apostasy all the time, but here we have D. Thomas Lancaster, no small voice in the realm of Messianic Jewish teachings and writings, offering the same cautionary tale based on the warning of whoever wrote the Book of Hebrews.

What Did I Learn?

I’ve been bending my brain around what Lancaster has been teaching and filtering it through some of the comments of people who have been reading my reviews.

broken-crossCould the Book of Hebrews been written after the Temple’s destruction and the writer was trying to encourage his Jewish readers that the quintessential Temple continued to exist in Heaven with Messiah as its Kohen Gadol?

Regardless of differences in interpretation, the main point of Lancaster’s sermon was what hit home the most, especially in the face of recent failures and my continued struggle with the rigidity of certain Christians and their commentaries.

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

Hebrews 2:1-3 (NASB)

We must…I must pay attention to what I have heard so that I do not drift way from it, for if the Word spoken by angels at Sinai to Moses, the Torah, proved unalterable, how can I escape if I neglect so great a salvation as the Word uttered by the Master?